Archive for WW II

Berlin [and Vienna] noir [book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 17, 2017 by xi'an

While in Cambridge last month, I picked a few books from a local bookstore as fodder for my incoming vacations. Including this omnibus volume made of the first three books by Philip Kerr featuring Bernie Gunther, a private and Reich detective in Nazi Germany, namely, March Violets (1989), The Pale Criminal (1990), and A German Requiem (1991). (Book that I actually read before the vacations!) The stories take place before the war, in 1938, and right after, in 1946, in Berlin and Vienna. The books centre on a German version of Philip Marlowe, wise cracks included, with various degrees of success. (There actually is a silly comparison with Chandler on the back of the book! And I found somewhere else a similarly inappropriate comparison with Graham Greene‘s The Third Man…) Although I read the whole three books in a single week, which clearly shows some undeniable addictive quality in the plots, I find those plots somewhat shallow and contrived, especially the second one revolving around a serial killer of young girls that aims at blaming Jews for those crimes and at justifying further Nazi persecutions. Or the time spent in Dachau by Bernie Gunther as undercover agent for Heydrich. If anything, the third volume taking place in post-war Berlin and Wien is much better at recreating the murky atmosphere of those cities under Allied occupations. But overall there is much too much info-dump passages in those novels to make them a good read. The author has clearly done his documentation job correctly, from the early homosexual persecutions to Kristallnacht, to the fights for control between the occupying forces, but the information about the historical context is not always delivered in the most fluent way. And having the main character working under Heydrich, then joining the SS, does make relating to him rather unlikely, to say the least. It is hence unclear to me why those books are so popular, apart from the easy marketing line that stories involving Nazis are more likely to sell… Nothing to be compared with the fantastic Alone in Berlin, depicting the somewhat senseless resistance of a Berliner during the Nazi years, dropping hand-written messages against the regime under strangers’ doors.

Turing’s Bayesian contributions

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Running, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 17, 2015 by xi'an

Following The Imitation Game, this recent movie about Alan Turing played by Benedict “Sherlock” Cumberbatch, been aired in French theatres, one of my colleagues in Dauphine asked me about the Bayesian contributions of Turing. I first tried to check in Sharon McGrayne‘s book, but realised it had vanished from my bookshelves, presumably lent to someone a while ago. (Please return it at your earliest convenience!) So I told him about the Bayesian principle of updating priors with data and prior probabilities with likelihood evidence in code detecting algorithms and ultimately machines at Bletchley Park… I could not got much farther than that and hence went checking on Internet for more fodder.

“Turing was one of the independent inventors of sequential analysis for which he naturally made use of the logarithm of the Bayes factor.” (p.393)

I came upon a few interesting entries but the most amazìng one was a 1979 note by I.J. Good (assistant of Turing during the War) published in Biometrika retracing the contributions of Alan Mathison Turing during the War. From those few pages, it emerges that Turing’s statistical ideas revolved around the Bayes factor that Turing used “without the qualification `Bayes’.” (p.393) He also introduced the notion of ban as a unit for the weight of evidence, in connection with the town of Banbury (UK) where specially formatted sheets of papers were printed “for carrying out an important classified process called Banburismus” (p.394). Which shows that even in 1979, Good did not dare to get into the details of Turing’s work during the War… And explains why he was testing simple statistical hypothesis against simple statistical hypothesis. Good also credits Turing for the expected weight of evidence, which is another name for the Kullback-Leibler divergence and for Shannon’s information, whom Turing would visit in the U.S. after the War. In the final sections of the note, Turing is also associated with Gini’s index, the estimation of the number of species (processed by Good from Turing’s suggestion in a 1953 Biometrika paper, that is, prior to Turing’s suicide. In fact, Good states in this paper that “a very large part of the credit for the present paper should be given to [Turing]”, p.237), and empirical Bayes.

Rødstrupe [book review]

Posted in Books, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , on February 15, 2015 by xi'an

In the common room of the Department of Mathematics at the University of Warwick [same building as the Department of Statistics], there is a box for book exchanges and I usually take a look at each visit for a possible exchange. In October, I thus picked Jo Nesbø’s The Redbreast in exchange for maybe The Rogue Male. However, it stood on my office bookcase for another three months before I found time to read this early (2000) instalment in the Harry Hole series. With connections with the earliest Redeemer.

This is a fairly good if not perfect book, with a large opening into Norway’s WW II history and the volunteers who joined Nazi Germany to fight on the Eastern Front. And the collaborationist government of Vidkin Quissling. I found most interesting this entry into this period and the many parallels with French history at the same time. (To the point that quisling is now a synonym for collaborator, similar to pétainiste in French.) This historical background has some similarities with Camilla Lackberg‘s Hidden Child I read a while ago but on a larger and broader scale. Reminiscences and episodes from 1940-1944 take a large part of the book. And rightly so, as the story during WW II explains a lot of the current plot. While this may sound like an easy story-line, the plot also dwells a lot on skinheads and neo-Nazis in Olso. While Hole’s recurrent alcoholism irks me in the long run (more than Rebus‘ own alcohol problem, for some reason!), the construction of the character is quite well-done, along with a reasonable police force, even though both Hole’s inquest and the central crime of the story are stretching on and beyond belief, with too many coincidences. And a fatal shot by the police leads to very little noise and investigation, in a country where the murder rate is one of the lowest in the World and police officers do not carry guns. Except in Nesbø’s novels! Still, I did like the novel to the point of spending most of a Sunday afternoon on it, with the additional appeal of most of it taking place in Oslo. Definitely a page turner.

Moon over Soho [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on November 29, 2014 by xi'an

London by Delta, Dec. 14, 2011

A book from the pile I brought back from Gainesville. And the first I read, mostly during the trip back to Paris. Both because I was eager to see the sequel to Rivers of London and because it was short and easy to carry in a pocket.

“From the figures I have, I believe that two to three jazz musicians have died within twenty-four hours of playing a gig in the Greater London area in the last year.”
“I take it that’s statistically significant?

Moon over Soho is the second installment in the Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovitch. It would not read well on its own as it takes over when Rivers of London stopped. Even though it reintroduces most of the rules of this magical universe. Most characters are back (except for the hostaged Beverly) and they are trying to cope with what happened in the first installment. The story is even more centred on jazz than in the first volume, with as a corollary, Peter Grant’s parents taking a more important part in the book. The recovering Leslie is hardly seen (for obvious reasons) and heard, which leaves a convenient hole in Grant’s sentimental life! The book also introduces a major magical villein who will undoubtedly figures in the incoming books. Another great story, even though the central plot has a highly predictable ending, and even more end of the ending, and some parts sound like repetitions of similar parts in the first volume. But the tone, the pace, the style, the humour, the luv’ of Lundun, all are there and so it is all that matters! (I again bemoan the missing map of London!)

June 7, 1944

Posted in Kids with tags , , , , , on June 7, 2014 by xi'an

[I wrote this post a few years ago, but the 70th anniversary of the D-day brought back those memories and I thought it worth re-posting…]

This is the day I almost got un-born, not that I was born at the time (!) but my mother, then almost seven, came close to dying under the Allied bombs that obliterated Saint-Lô (Manche, western France) from the map that night, in conjunction with the D Day landing in the nearby beaches of Utah Beach and Omaha Beach. (The city was supposed to be taken by the end of June 6, but it was only on July 19 that Allied troops entered Saint-Lô.) Most of the town got destroyed under 60,000 pounds of bombs in an attempt by the Allied forces to cut access to the beaches from German reinforcements from Brittany. (Saint-Lô got the surname of “capital of the ruins” from Samuel Beckett after this bombing and it took many years to reconstruct.) My granparents and their three daughters barely went out of their house before it collapsed and had to flee the ablaze Saint-Lô with a single cartwheel to carry two suitcases and the three girls. Several times did my grandfather hide them under his leather jacket for power lines were collapsing around them…
They eventually (and obviously) made it alive out of Saint-Lô, only to be rounded up with other refugees by German troops who parked them in a field, most likely to be used as hostages. Taking advantage of the night, my grandfather managed once again to get his family away by crawling under the barriers on the darkest side of the field and they then reached (by foot) a most secluded village in the countryside where my great-grandmother was living at the time. From when I was a child, I have heard this story so many times from my mother that it is almost pictured in my brain, as if I had seen the “movie”, somehow.

June 7, 1944

Posted in Kids with tags , , on June 6, 2009 by xi'an

This is the day I almost got un-born, not that I was born at the time (!) but my mother, then almost seven, came close to dying under the Allied bombs that obliterated Saint-Lô (Manche, western France) from the map that night, in conjunction with the D Day landing in the nearby beaches of Utah Beach and Omaha Beach. (The city was supposed to be taken by the end of June 6, but it was only on July 19 that Allied troops entered Saint-Lô.) Most of the town got destroyed under 60,000 pounds of bombs in an attempt by the Allied forces to cut access to the beaches from German reinforcements from Brittany. (Saint-Lô got the surname of “capital of the ruins” from Samuel Beckett after this bombing and it took many years to reconstruct.) My granparents and their three daughters barely went out of their house before it collapsed and had to flee the ablaze Saint-Lô with a single cartwheel to carry two suitcases and the three girls. Several times did my grandfather hide them under his leather jacket for power lines were collapsing around them…
They eventually (and obviously) made it alive out of Saint-Lô, only to be rounded up with other refugees by German troops who parked them in a field, most likely to be used as hostages. Taking advantage of the night, my grandfather managed once again to get his family away by crawling under the barriers on the darkest side of the field and they then reached (by foot) a most secluded village in the countryside where my great-grandmother was living at the time. From when I was a child, I have heard this story so many times from my mother that it is almost pictured in my brain, as if I had seen the “movie”, somehow.