Betsy Devine: Funny ha-ha and/or funny peculiar

Making trouble today for a better tomorrow…

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Entries Tagged as 'Stories'

Did it start with dialup for you?

October 7th, 2017 · No Comments

Oh those quaint old days of the 20th century! Do you remember them too?

Do you remember the soft creaky groaning of dialup, when you waited for that connection? Do you remember when Netscape Navigator added images to internet pages of text? Did you make your own animated GIF avatar for Compuserve forums? Do you remember why we called it the World Wide Wait?

In 1998 (or thereabouts), our family moved to the Netherlands for 3 months, because Frank had a Lorentz Professorship. About two days before takeoff, I figured out how to sign up for Hotmail, just in case it turned out to be useful. In those simple days, short email addresses were super easy to get.

When we moved to Cambridge, about 2000, I was very anxious to have good internet cables running up through a wall between Frank’s study and mine, so we could both work at our desks with computers online. I also proposed, as a bit of a lark, that we might try something new I had read about in MacWorld, something called wifi. Without much expectation, we bought a new wireless router, which affected our lives in ways we never imagined.

Now you could unplug your computer from your desk and use it in the kitchen to try a new recipe, or even out in the garden on beautiful day. And every time you looked, there was something new online that ysou wanted to try. There were blogs, and anybody could start one! And then Cameron Marlowe made a blog tool tracking which blogs were following certain news stories, and there was a big news story about GOP shenanigans that I wanted to see blogs linking to, so there was a reason for me to start a blog, so of course I did.

Then out of nowhere, there was a guy named Dave Winer at Harvard holding big meetings where amateur bloggers could even meet tech superstars. There was a “social software” from Google called Orkut, where you could ask techy acquaintances to “friend” you, a heady rush of pleasure when they said yes.

Then bloggers got RSS, and then I got a job working for Scott Johnson at Feedster, and then along came Bloggercon and Joi Ito’s chatroom and SXSW, even more connections that put real life and your computer together. Because there were always more web things to try. Things like del.icio.us made by a #joi chatroom friend Joshua Schachter, which we all had to try. Things like Second Life, where a 2003 Newsweek story about becoming a real life millionaire selling virtual stuff there motivated so many people to give it a try. I must confess that although I did make some real-life money in Second Life, it was never enough to cover the real-life money I spent, mostly on “rent” for beautiful places to put the wild buildings I also bought, but also on bubblegum pink hair and beautiful “textures” and other fun things.

So now, just a bit more than a decade later, I can visit foreign countries without learning the important local language sentence, “Where is the nearest internet cafe?” In fact, now I am writing this blogpost while riding an airplane from Shanghai to Boston. There is probably room for another blogpost to cover the time in between, but I want to finish this one before I run out of my airline wifi!

Tags: Go go go · Metablogging · Stories · Travel · Wide wonderful world

How many dead squirrel stories do *you* have?

April 17th, 2007 · Comments Off on How many dead squirrel stories do *you* have?




Dead squirrel

Originally uploaded by velvetmarmoset.

Ronni Bennett’s Elder Storytelling Place is brand-new–but I’ve already found lots of wonderful new stories there.

It’s a lovely project that deserves your attention–and would be a great place for your own stories. I wonder how many stories-per-person will show up there. Will it give an insider’s view into the lives of a few of us? Or will it showcase the most story-like memories from a wide range of us?

Research by Seth Anthony (reported at Wikimania 2006 in his talk “Who is creating real content for Wikipedia?“) suggests that most people run out of energy or material after no more than ten or so “high-content” contributions.

For example, my blogfriend Bert hasn’t posted since 2005. How I miss him! How I enjoyed his memories of the 1980 Olympics in upstate NY, his scenes from the 2004 election, and his celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Normandy invasion.

For another example, I doubt that I have even nine more memories that fit into story form as well as my dead squirrel story.

Props to Ronni for starting this project, which will surely enrich us with many people’s great stories!

Tags: Stories · Wide wonderful world

Why is the RNC paying to keep NH phone-jamming secrets? A partial timeline

April 11th, 2006 · Comments Off on Why is the RNC paying to keep NH phone-jamming secrets? A partial timeline

Federal Election campaign, 2002
Chuck McGee, Executive Director of the New Hampshire Republican party, gets a flyer in the mail from NH Democrats with phone numbers to call if you want a ride to the polls. McGee gets the idea to “disrupt enemy communications” by jamming these numbers. He approaches several telemarketers, all of whom refuse to help him, and is stymied until James Tobin offers to help him. James Tobin is the New England regional head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
10/18/2002
James Tobin makes a two-minute phone call to Allen Raymond. (Raymond testified that Tobin had phoned him to tell him to expect a phone call from McGee. Defense witness Kathleen Summers testified that Tobin had a different reason to call.)
10/23/2002
Tobin’s expense account shows a payment of $39.16 with the names Chuck McGee, Darrell Henry, and Chairman Dowd (head of NH State Republican Party)
10/28/2002
Abramoff clients Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians (California) gives $5,000 to NH Republican State Committee.
http://query.nictusa.com/cgi-bin/dcdev/forms/C00136457/95264/sa/ALL
10/28/2002
Abramoff clients Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians gives $5,000 to NH Republican State Committee.
11/1/2002
Tom DeLays’s ARMPAC gives $5,000 to NH Republican State Committee.
11/4/2002
McGee sends $15,600 check from NH Republican State Committee check to pay for phone-jamming. He also sends Raymond an email with the 6 phone numbers to jam.
11/5/2002
Election day phone-jamming plan unravels, as Manchester Police and NH Republican John Dodds bring it to a halt. James Tobin makes two dozen phone calls to the White House office of public affairs between 11/4 and 2:17 a.m. on 11/7.
mid-November, 2002
Manchester, NH police contact Allen Raymond’s company; Raymond phones Tobin; Tobin at first pretends not to know what he’s talking about (Allen Raymond’s testimony)
2/7/2003
Federal investigators have been called in by Manchester, NH police. Manchester Union Leader breaks the phone-jamming story, and Chuck McGee resigns as Executive Director of the New Hampshire Republican party.
http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/week_2003_02_02.php#000625
2/20/2003
According to the Feb. 20 Union Leader, the GOP Marketplace attorney said “the firm hasn’t heard from federal or state investigators, either.”
http://www.theunionleader.com/articles_show.html?article=18369
December, 2003
FBI agent first interviews Chuck McGee to ask him about his role in the phone-jamming. (Chuck McGee’s testimony)
2/17/2004
James Tobin donation to Ted Poe (Texas) $1,000
3/30/2004
James Tobin donation to John Eric Ensign (NV) (giving Tobin’s Maine address) $500
6/9/2004
James Tobin donation to John Eric Ensign (NV) (giving Tobin’s DC address) $500
6/24/2004
James Tobin donation to Bob Beauprez (CO) $500
6/30/2004
Allen Raymond pleads guilty, admitting he took $15,600 from the NH Republican Committee to pay for a phone bank to make repeated hang-up calls to NH Democrats and Manchester firefighters, blocking their get-out-the-vote effort on Election Day 2002.
6/30/2004
Prosecutor Todd Hinnen tells the court that had Raymond chosen to go to trial, the government would have been able to prove that “in late October 2002, the defendant, Allen Raymond, then the president of Virginia-based political consulting company GOP Marketplace, LLC, received a call from a former colleague who was then an official in a national political organization. The official indicated that he had been approached by an employee of the New Hampshire Republican State Committee with an idea that might give New Hampshire Republican candidates an edge over New Hampshire democratic (sic) candidates in the upcoming election.”
6/30/2004
James Tobin donation to Tom Delay (TX) $2000 (More on Tobin’s donations to friends of DeLay and Abramoff.
7/1/2004
Union Leader story discloses that Raymond worked with “co-conspirators known to the government,” but does not identify them.
Early July, 2004
Chuck McGee arraigned for his role in phone-jamming.
7/10/2004
James Tobin donation to Kit Bond (MO) $500
7/13/2004
NH State Democratic Party files suit against the Republican State Committee and its former executive director over the jamming of six phone banks on Election Day 2002.
7/28/2004
Chuck McGee pleads guilty in Federal Court.
8/26/2004
James Tobin donation to Sandhills PAC (Chuck Hagel) $500
9/3/2004
James Tobin donation to Iowa Priorities PAC (Jim Nussle) $500
Early October, 2004
NH Democrats sue both McGee and Raymond, filing a motion that describes but does not name James Tobin as the unidentified co-conspirator whose identity has been concealed by the Justice Department.
10/11/2004
Josh Marshall’s TalkingPointsMemo reveals the name of James Tobin, based on information in the Democrats’ lawsuit.
10/14, 2004
The Manchester Union Leader becomes the first mainstream media outlet to name James Tobin in connection with the phone-jamming scandal.
10/15/2004
James Tobin resigns as Bush-Cheney New England campaign chair. http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/003694.php
12/1/2004
James Tobin is indicted by Federal grand jury on four counts related to the get-out-the-vote phone-jamming. The indictment describes Tobin as the go-between who put McGee and Raymond in touch with each other. Tobin pleads innocent to the charges.
12/9/2004
According to RNC financial disclosures, the Republican National Committee paid the high-powered Washington law firm Williams and Connolly $162,646 on Dec. 9, 2004, eight days after a grand jury charged that Tobin had aided former state GOP executive director Charles McGee in setting up an operation to jam voter-turnout telephone banks at Democratic and labor union offices throughout the state. http://www.democrats.org/a/2005/08/whos_dopey_geor.php?comments=1
5/18/2005
Superseding indictment of James Tobin alleges 4 counts: Conpiracy 1) against voters’ rights and 2) to make phone calls violating federal law, and Aiding and abetting 3) anonymous harassing phone calls and 4) repeated harassing phone calls. http://wid.ap.org/documents/tobinindictment.pdf
8/13/2005
Union Leader breaks story that RNC is paying Tobin’s legal bills.
August, 2005
Federal Prosecutor Todd Hinnen pulled off the phone-jamming case, replaced by a brand-new prosecutor. (Tobin’s defense continues to be handled by partner-level staff from top DC white-collar-crime group Williams and Connelly.)
12/6/2005
James Tobin’s trial begins, in front of an audience that includes a few local reporters, many well-dressed young lawyers taking notes, and one dogged blogger. (Chronological account of Tobin’s trial)
12/15/2005
James Tobin convicted on two counts (Conspiracy, and Aiding and abetting related to phone calls); acquitted on conspiracy against rights.
12/15/2005
Tobin’s lawyers get another $1,771,360.21 from the RNC

12/21/2005
Tobin’s lawyers file notice of their intent to appeal his conviction.
3/27/06
Fourth indictment in NH phone-jamming case–Sean Hanson, the Idaho telemarketer whose company made the hang-up phone calls.
04/08/2006
Karl Rove thanks GOP lawyers for “clean elections.”
04/12/2006
NH State Legislature votes unanimously to make phone-jamming a felony.

Tags: Stories

Some of my favorite posts from 2005

April 7th, 2006 · Comments Off on Some of my favorite posts from 2005

  1. On being polka-dottedly hard-of-hearing
  2. Put that in your search result… (graphic BillBlink)
  3. Dried marjoram from her grandmother’s garden
  4. Er, ah, Camilla, old bean, oh, dash it all…
  5. Eternal life of a Willy Loman
  6. Hallelujah for modern music, including Handel’s (graphic pierced Handel)
  7. Full moon over blogland (graphic moon)
  8. Pre-mocking this year’s Oscars
  9. Geek celebration: Our billion-second-iversary
  10. De canem nil nisi bonum
  11. Happiness is a Dutch bicycle
  12. How Descartes made me stop being late to morning assembly…
  13. “Few Body Collisions”
  14. Portrait of a 1918 blogger
  15. One dress, one jacket, one suitcase packed at all times…
  16. Un-bargained bargain
  17. Soft watches and traveling Saturdays
  18. Happy”Day After Mothers´ Day”!
  19. Word from a lover (and hater) of science museums
  20. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Frank Wilczek, and Iker Casillas
  21. Randomly generate poetry based on your blog
  22. Ultimate h2g2 computer nerd joke
  23. Let’s all be post-post-post-post-post-post-Postmodern
  24. I like good hotels better than grand ones…
  25. Father’s Day and loving men, just in general
  26. Galactic strawberries and DMZ birding
  27. Comet kaboom just in time for Fourth of July (graphic)
  28. “Captain, I canna change the laws of physics!”
  29. Close encounter with Phoenicopteris ruber plasticus
  30. Deciphering the technology of Mozart
  31. Home home home home home
  32. Volkswagen Beetles, and Robby, by a nose
  33. Duelling mass-market paperbacks
  34. Two brothers, eight cousins, and Craigslist
  35. Maple syrup miracle (graphic)
  36. Chuck McGee, now out of prison…
  37. Strawberry fields remembered
  38. “I pledge allegiance to the fish”?
  39. AP reporter:”What happened? What happened?”
  40. Christmas landscape with berries, birds, and blogfriends

And some of my favorite graphics from 2005:






AnnetteFun: Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon, animated gif.
BostonPublicGarden: Boston Public Garden under snow.

ModHandel: Handel with piercings and microphone
Davesnow: Dave Winer sparring with New England snowfall

Tags: Stories

James Tobin’s Consulting Contract with the NRSC, dated Feb. 5, 2002

March 25th, 2006 · Comments Off on James Tobin’s Consulting Contract with the NRSC, dated Feb. 5, 2002

Government Exhibit 64 in the criminal trial of James Tobin in NH’s Federal District Court, CR 04-216-01-SM, was his contract with the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC).

Here are some salient excerpts:

WITNESSETH

WHEREAS, Tobin is in the business of political consulting.

WHEREAS, the NRSC desires to engage Tobin for performance of above said services as a regional political director;

Now, THEREFORE,..the parties agree as follows:

ARTICLE I — DUTIES OF TOBIN

A. Services Provided. Tobin covenants and agrees to provide to the NRSC the following services: Tobin covenants and agrees to provide services as consultant to NRSC and its candidates.

B. Directives. In performing its [sic] duties, Tobin shall routinely consult with the NRSC’s political director, Chris LaCivita….

ARTICLE V — INDEMNIFICATION

Tobin shall indemnify and hold the NRSC.. harmless against and from any and all claims .. (including attorneys’ fees..) .. arising out of or attributable to Tobin’s performance of this contract…

The contract promises Tobin $6,000 per month for his services. I think it’s interesting that whoever drafted this contract went to a lot of trouble to make sure Tobin kept the NRSC’s secrets, most especially its donor lists, assessing a penalty of $50,000 for each incident of his violating this provision.


Tags: Stories

Frank Wilczek, in his own words, recommending twelve books for a NY Academy of Science project

March 9th, 2006 · Comments Off on Frank Wilczek, in his own words, recommending twelve books for a NY Academy of Science project

Starmaker, Olaf Stapledon
Most science fiction gives us fictional worlds that are less fantastic, and much less interesting, than the real worlds science and history present us with. Starmaker is a grand exception. Mind-stretching!

Philosophy of Mathematics and the Natural Sciences, Hermann Weyl
This book is a survey of the whole field of mathematics and science, as it stood in the mid-twentieth century, by one of the greatest and wisest mathematical physicists. Interesting both as intellectual history and as intellectual doctrine.

QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter, Richard Feynman
This short book is a unique, brilliant attempt to present a key component of our most advanced theories of physics in an honest way. Feynman presents the actual rules that govern elementary processes in quantum theory, and shows how to get from those weird rules to some familiar (and some not-so-familiar) physical phenomena.

Quantum Computation and Quantum Information, Michael Nielsen and Isaac Chuang
Quantum mechanics is still a young theory. It opens up potentials for qualitatively new kinds of information processing, and perhaps eventually for qualitatively new kinds of minds. It is also strange, beautiful, and fascinating. This book is a good starting-point if you’d like to get into those aspects of the subject.

Information Theory, Inference, and Learning Algorithms, Donald MacKay
A great challenge of our time is to realize the potential of modern computing technologies for creative achievement. I feel we’ve only scratched the surface, and that giving machines the ability to learn is the key. This book presents many relevant insights, and is quite entertaining to boot.

Power, Sex, Suicide, Nick Lane
Lest you get the wrong impression, the subtitle of this recent book is “Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life”. It would be surprising if all the ideas discussed here are correct, but I found it an exhilarating visit to some frontiers of modern biology, by a writer who’s not afraid to thing big – and think hard.

The Chess Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes, Raymond Smullyan
You don’t have to know much about chess to have fun with these strange puzzles, which ask you not to predict the best moves, but rather to reconstruct what happened in the past. The framing stories are also quite amusing. This is definitely one of the cleverest books I’ve ever encountered.

They Made America, Harold Evans
Often inspiring, always fascinating stories of inventors and entrepreneurs whose work changed the way we live.

The Best and the Brightest, David Halberstam
Two painful lessons: denying reality won’t change it; cleverness is not the same as wisdom. A sad and infuriating, but necessary, book for anyone with responsibility for public issues.

Lincoln at Gettysburg, Gary Wills
This short, beautifully written book is a close reading of a very brief speech that just might be the greatest poem ever written (or maybe that’s the Second Inaugural). It contains depths within depths.

How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie
The basic message: put yourself in the other guy’s shoes. A short, sweet book that is interesting on several levels. We could all benefit from taking it to heart.

Golden Gate, Vikram Seth
This novel is written in the form of a series of sonnets in verse. It is an amazing feat, delightful to witness. Now we need a modern Lucretius, who’ll put our best (scientific) concept of the world to verse.

Tags: Stories

2002 NH Phone-jamming trial: Treffinger testimony shut out by defense

January 10th, 2006 · Comments Off on 2002 NH Phone-jamming trial: Treffinger testimony shut out by defense

At the trial of James Tobin, defense attorney Dane Butswinkas objected strongly to letting telemarketer Allen Raymond testify about his work for James Treffinger’s NJ Senate Campaign.

The following discussion took place “at side bar, ” out of hearing of the jury but part of the official case transcript for December 7, 2005 (morning session), which I quote:

[Page 81]
4 MR. BUTSWINKAS: Your Honor, I just want to
5 make sure we’re not going to get into examples of prior
6 bad acts. We’ve received no 404(b) notice. It is not
7 relevant to truthfulness.
8 THE COURT: What’s the relevance?
9 MR. MARSH [US Attorney from the Public Integrity Section of the DOJ]: It’s relevant because it
10 establishes Mr. Raymond’s position in the community as a
11 player. Specifically, he was involved in something in
12 New Jersey which was an aggressive ad. He was
13 interviewed by the federal government, was never charged
14 with a crime, was never implicated in a crime, but it
15 resulted in him having to give an interview and resulted
16 ultimately in grand jury indictment unrelated to him.
17 THE COURT [Judge Steven McAuliffe]: The point of all this is what?
18 MR. MARSH: To bring it out.
19 THE COURT: If the point is to bring it out,
20 the answer is no.
21 MR. MARSH: Also to establish at the time
22 prior to when Mr. Raymond gets solicited by Mr. Tobin in
23 the fall, this incident in New Jersey has already
24 happened, is already public, and it’s something we
25 believe circumstantially Mr. Tobin would have known at
[Page 82]
1 the time that he makes the reference to Mr. McGee.
2 MR. BUTSWINKAS: There is no proof of that.
3 THE COURT: No, no, no, no. Are you kidding?
4 You mean because Raymond is involved in something, Tobin
5 necessarily knew about it?
6 MR. LEVCHUK [the lead US Attorney on the case]: It’s publicly known, the
7 aggressive hard hitting, in other words, that kind of
8 person.
9 THE COURT: Why does this jury need to know
10 that?
11 MR. LEVCHUK: Because it explains why the
12 referral to this guy [Allen Raymond] rather than somebody else. It
13 tends to make that the more likely than not route.


Unfortunately, Judge McAuliffe sustained Mr. Butswinkas’s objection, cutting off an opportunity for Allen Raymond to testify under oath about his work for James Treffinger–even though such testimony would have helped the defense’s efforts to discredit Raymond, who gave damning evidence against James Tobin.

Just one more reason why I’m reluctant to describe the Washington-based, RNC-paid lawyers on the defense bench as “Mr. Tobin’s lawyers.” In Mr. Tobin’s interest, they should on many occasions have taken a different path–beginning with counselling him (as McGee’s and Raymond’s lawyers had counselled them) to take a plea deal from the US Attorney.


Tags: Stories

Concord Monitor stories on Tobin

December 20th, 2005 · Comments Off on Concord Monitor stories on Tobin

Tags: Stories

What did Daryl Henry know and how did he know it? (note: correct spelling is “Darrell Henry”.)

December 15th, 2005 · Comments Off on What did Daryl Henry know and how did he know it? (note: correct spelling is “Darrell Henry”.)

From the official court transcript of United States of America vs. James Tobin, (CR.04-216-01-SM) December 7, 2005, morning session. Here “Q” is US Attorney Andrew Levchuk and “A” is witness Chuck McGee.

[Page 8]
16 Q. Later on on Election Day, do you have a
17 discussion about the phone jamming scheme with anyone?
18 A. That day, later in the day, I traveled to our
19 Manchester Republican Office where I spoke to —
20 specifically about this, I recall speaking to a
21 gentleman by the name of Daryl Henry. Daryl was up from
22 Washington volunteering on the campaign. I mentioned to
23 him that the phone call plan had been called off and
24 that I was a bit upset about that, and he indicated in
25 some fashion that he knew about the plan going on and

[Page 9]

1 that he had called some associates of his to pick up
2 where we left off. I took it as bravado because I
3 didn’t possibly know how he would have known about the
4 plan or who we were calling or how it had been stopped.
5 I just took it as he was trying to be a nice guy and
6 make me feel good.
7 Q. Who is Daryl Henry, sir?
8 A. He was up from Washington. As far as I know
9 he works for American Gas Association. I don’t know
10 much more about him than that.
11 Q. What was he doing in New Hampshire, if you
12 know?
13 A. He was helping coordinate some of our VIP
14 visits, volunteering in general campaign fashion. The
15 time before an election is very, very, very busy for us,
16 as you know. We spent nine million dollars that year.


For a full transcript of the morning session, December 7, 2005, contact NH Court Reporter Diane M. Churas.


Darell, not Daryl, Henry is a lobbyist for the American Gas Association. In January, 2004, NPR reported on a lobbying excursion where he was one of the players: http://www.weblog.nohair.net/archives/000438.html. According to Mike Gehrke, Henry took leave from his job with the AGA in 2002 to help with the NH GOP get-out-the-vote activities, and “After the election, Henry organized a fundraiser for the NH Republican Party featuring former RNC chair Marc Racicot and Ken Mehlman, who had recently accepted the position to manage President Bush’s reelection.”

Tags: Stories

Extraordinary year, extraordinary thanks: December 10, 2005

December 11th, 2005 · Comments Off on Extraordinary year, extraordinary thanks: December 10, 2005

The past year has been extraordinary. A new era started for Betsy and me on October 5, 2004 at 5:11 AM when Betsy interrupted my shower to hand me our cordless telephone, saying “A lady with a beautiful voice wants to talk to you. I think she has a Swedish accent.” I had hoped to hear, some day, from the Nobel committee, anticipating that this conversation would be of the form “Congratulations, you’ve won the Nobel Prize, goodbye.” Now I can tell you, that isn’t how it happens. Quite a few dignitaries, friends, colleagues and journalists all wanted to talk, and under the circumstances I was happy to oblige them despite being completely naked and dripping wet. The next thing was to call my parents with the news; that was one of the high points of my entire life.

The festivities in Stockholm, last December, were a week of wonders. After each event, I’d think “Nothing can equal that,” and then the next event would equal it. It climaxed with the rites of the Order of the Ever Smiling and Jumping Green Frog. I was delighted to see that our invitation tonight indicated “Black Tie and Decorations,” since it gave me the opportunity to display my only decoration, which is the magnificent green metal frog I got there. To earn it, I had to pass a series of tests, similar in spirit to the Masonic rituals you see in The Magic Flute, but choreographed by the Marx Brothers, rather than Mozart. That, finally, was an event that couldn’t be equaled. From there we went north to Kiruna, where we stayed at the ice hotel before returning home.

From them until now has been a year full of many varied events, ranging from addressing elementary school classes to hobnobbing with the rich and famous. I’ll forego name-dropping here, with one exception: I got to meet Yogi Berra. Recently I remarked to Betsy that I feel we’ve lived half our lives in the past year. That might be an illustration of the theory of relativity, or maybe an exaggeration, but for sure more than half our photos are from the last year.

I’m extremely grateful to Alfred Nobel and the people of Sweden for making it all possible.

But now I’d like to probe a little deeper.

For all the fun, the most profoundly gratifying thing I’ve experienced since winning the Nobel prize has been an outpouring of interest and affection from the general public, and from my colleagues – even from my rivals and competitors. This is not meant for me personally, I know. I didn’t suddenly metamorphose into another kind of being on October 5, 2004, or do anything at all. And most people, even physicists, don’t really understand the work that the prize was for.

When Einstein arrived in New York in the early 20s, his boat was met by cheering crowds. Einstein was pleased, but also astonished by this phenomenon. He asked Charlie Chaplin, who was traveling with him, “What does all this mean?” Chaplin replied: “Nothing.” I think Chaplin was wrong about that.

So what does it mean?

Many kinds of rewards are given to people for tangible services rendered. These rewards take the form of salaries, profits, social status, and so forth. But the accumulated wealth of science and literature, and the blessing of peace, often derive from efforts whose ultimate value isn’t immediately obvious. Even in cases where the real importance of some breakthrough is clear, it still might take years before the work yields any economic benefit; or, especially in literature, there may never be any conventional economic benefit at all. People who work toward increasing this special kind of wealth are devoting their careers to extremely long-term investments in the improvement of life for humanity as a whole. And what hardheaded businessperson or consumer will pay for that?

Yet history teaches us that such devotion to the long-term, and to the common good, pays off. The basic science of today becomes the technology of the future; the challenging literature of today provides the classics of the future; the difficult statecraft of today ensures the peace and prosperity of the future.

Part of the genius of Alfred Nobel and his prizes, as perfected by his successors at the Foundation and the people of Sweden, was to find a special way to recognize and encourage that kind of devotion. And I think that is what Einstein and Chaplin’s crowd, and the many people who’ve treated me so warmly over the past year, are responding to. So in that spirit I thank all involved not just for myself, but on behalf of all humanity, and on behalf of future generations.


Frank Wilczek, after-dinner remarks at the Swedish Consulate, New York City, 10 December 2005.


Tags: Stories