Wednesday, November 25, 2015

EINSTEIN | Nov. 25–General Theory Finished

Albert Einstein
Made a timeline.
He had the nerve
To make it curve.
(Clerihew by JT Marlin.)
Nov. 25 – This date in 1915, 100 years ago, Einstein finished his general theory and submitted for publication his article, "The Field Equations of Gravitation."

It included ten equations that comprise his Theory of General Relativity. Through his equations, Einstein propounds the origins of his theory of gravity and how it interacts with "space-time."

Einstein had, ten years before, developed his theory of special relativity which said that the speed of light is a constant and a limit in our universe. [See Comment below, where this summary is contested by a man with a D.Phil. in Physics from Oxford.]

The New Yorker has a useful article that tells the "big idea" of the "space doctor"using only the "ten hundred" words in most common use in the English language ("thousand" is not one of them). Einstein's new general theory viewed space and time as interwoven – changing one produces an effect on the other. The basic idea came from his former professor, Hermann Minkowski, and he generalized it.

Speed depends on the observer's frame of reference:
  • If you are on an airplane, you don't feel yourself moving.
  • But an observer on the ground will report that the plane is moving. 
Einstein realized that if space and time are on a single continuum, then as the rate of speed goes up, the rate of time must go down and vice versa:
  • For an object moving slowly through space, time passes quickly. 
  • For an object moving quickly, time slows down. 
  • The closer an object gets to attaining the speed of light, the bigger the effect.
Since then, scientists have proved his theory by sending atomic clocks up in high-speed rockets. When they return, the clocks on the rockets are slightly behind their earthly counterparts. 

According to Einstein's general theory, matter bends the "fabric" of spacetime. If space-time is a rubber sheet stretched above the ground, and you put a heavy object like a bowling ball in the middle of the sheet, the bowling ball will pull down the center of the sheet. Any other lighter-weight balls you place on the blanket will be pulled toward the bowling ball, because the bowling ball is keeping the blanket from being flat.

That's where gravity comes from. For us on earth, the sun is the bowling ball, and the planets are other, smaller balls rolling around the sun. The planets are moving so fast in their orbits that they just keep circling the sun; their speed keeps them from falling into the sun, and gravity keeps them from flying off into space.

Einstein theorized that light curves as a result of gravity's effects on the fabric of space-time.

Willem van Stockum,
Like William of Ockam,
Did what he must –
He invented his Dust.
He said that curve ought to be provable by carefully photographing an eclipse. In 1919, astronomers went to an island off the coast of Africa to get the best possible photo of a solar eclipse. Sure enough,  they showed a deflection of the sunlight matching Einstein's prediction.

Willem J. van Stockum is the first person to write in English about the implication of Einstein's general theory for the possibility of time travel.

His 1937 article showed that Einstein's equations generate closed time-like curves, following on his dissertation for his Edinburgh Ph.D. in physics.

His "van Stockum dust" invention is viewed as an ingenious interpretation of the most difficult parts of Einstein's general theory.


I sent the above to my nephew Chris Oakley (D.Phil. Physics Oxon.) to make sure I got it as right as can be and still be talking English, with or without the ten-hundred-word limit. He has responded only to the bit about the special theory of relativity, which he says is not correctly expressed above. Here is his proposed new language for that bit:
Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity (1905): Motion can only be detected with reference to another object; when you say you are travelling at 50 mph it is 50 mph relative to the ground – relative to the surface of the Moon (for example) it would be a lot faster. The notion that the laws of physics do not depend on relative motion is called Galilean Invariance (neither word being in the 1,000-word list). Thus if you are conducting a physics experiment in a train travelling smoothly and levelly on a completely straight track at constant speed & it makes no reference to what is going on outside, you will get the same results whatever the speed of the train – if Galilean Invariance is true. Newton’s laws of motion are Galilean-invariant. The problem was that the new-fangled electromagnetism, discovered in the 19th century, which also governs the propagation of light, as embodied by Maxwell’s equations, is not Galilean-invariant. It looked as though there was a preferred reference frame where light would propagate in spherical waves much in the way that if you dip your finger in a lake from a stationary rowing boat, the ripples will radiate outwards in circles. That is the “preferred” reference frame; if the boat is moving the ripples will bunch in the direction of motion of the boat, and spread out downstream. Ripple propagation, at least as seen from the boat, is faster downstream (you add the speed of the boat), but slower upstream (you subtract the speed of the boat), and you can figure out the speed of the boat from this difference. That was the idea of the Michelson-Morley experiment c. 1900, only the boat was planet Earth, the lake they called the Lumeniferous Ether and the ripples were light waves. They found, and continue to find, nothing. All sorts of explanations for the null result were advanced, e.g., that the ether is dragged by heavy objects like the Earth, but Einstein came up with the simple but mind-warping notion that the Ether does not exist, rather space and time themselves conspire to ensure if you measure the speed of light you will always get the same result (about 186,000 miles per second) regardless of the motion of your measuring instruments. He was rightly dismissed as a lunatic… well, initially, at least. 
I am promised a subsequent bit about the general theory (1915).

Sunday, November 22, 2015

IMMIGRANTS | We All Were Once

Lady Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor, 
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, 
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore...
(Emma Lazarus)
We are about to head into a holiday season in the United States that is full of reasons for compassion to displaced Syrians.

It is already difficult for a Syrian refugee to get asylum in the United States. So far 2,300 have been admitted. Egypt has admitted 135,000, says Nicholas Kristof.

The New York Times today posted a list of all the steps that the U.S. Government takes to prevent the admission of an enemy of our country.

Thanksgiving. It is worth remembering that the Mayflower Pilgrims were refugees from persecution in England. Dissenters like them could be charged with treason and executed.

St. Nicholas Day. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children and travelers, as well as of New York City. He has, in the person of Santa Claus, been personified through the poetry of Clement Clarke Moore of Chelsea, New York City as the embodiment of empathy and generosity.

Christmas.  When pregnant Mary and Joseph came to Bethlehem, they were in a strange city. The only available place for them to sleep was a stable. That was bad enough. But Matthew 2:1-18 says Joseph was warned to emigrate with the rest of his family to Egypt to escape King Herod. They may have stayed in Egypt as refugees for as long (one commentator says) as eight years.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

WW2 | 2. Boissevain and van Hall Pre-Nazi-Era Homes

Charles Boissevain with his daughter Nella Hissink in front
 of Drafna. Notation by Anne Boissevain, Robert's second
wife, in the album she kept.
November 11, 2015 – The large clan of Boissevains and their in-laws lived and worked in beautiful homes by the Amsterdam canals and later in homes to the east and west of Amsterdam.

Suburban Boissevain homes in the 1920s and 1930s were clustered in the Amsterdam area – especially in Naarden and Haarlem.

In the summer many of them went to their beach houses in Zandvoort (recently renamed "Amsterdam Beach") on the North Sea – at the same longitude as Amsterdam.

The extended Boissevain and van Hall families would gather as a single family at celebrations such as a wedding (bruiloft), or a wedding anniversary (huwelijksverjaardag) of the family patriarch and matriarch.
Map 1. The Boissevain houses went from Zandvoort on
the coast to Haarlem and Amsterdam, then east to Naarden.

The most famous homes were Drafna in Naarden, home of Charles and Emily Boissevain; or Astra and the Kolkhuis (which I visited several times) in Hattem, homes of Jan and Hester van Hall. 

Families related closely to the Boissevains, all of them I think with more than one intermarriage among cousins, include the den Texes, van Halls, van Lenneps and van Tienhovens.

My mother's Aunt Hester Boissevain van Hall ("Tante
Hessie") lived in "Het Kolkhuis" in Hattem.
With Charles Boissevain in February 2015, I visited many places where members of the family lived or worshipped in the 20th Century, and even some homes where relatives still lived and welcomed us.

Homes are concentrated in a line from Zandvoort on the west coast to Haarlem, Amsterdam and Naarden (see Map 1).

The line continued east from Amersfoort, where Teau Boissevain de Beaufort, lived, to Hattem and Zwolle. The van Halls moved to Zwolle for health reasons, because the higher ground to the east makes it drier than areas closer to Amsterdam. The van Halls lived first in Zwolle and then at the Kolkhuis in Hattem (see Map 2).

Relatives who lived off the Zandvoort-to-Zwolle band include Nella Boissevain Hissink, who lived in the capital of Friesland, Leeuwarden.


The house at Corellistraat 6 was the home of Jan "Canada" Boissevain and Mies van Lennep Boissevain. Their two eldest children were Gijs ("Gi") and Jan Karel ("Janka") Boissevain.


Engelien de Booy lived here - I visited her at her home before she died.

Emmaplein 2, where Robert and Sonia 
lived until 1936.

In the Bentveldsweg, within 100 meters of each other, live or have lived four families with van Hall descendants:
  • Zonnehof was built for Charles's great-uncle Aat van Hall (father of Gijs and Wally van Hall), who raised ten children there between 1897 and about 1915. When I visited in 2015 it was inhabited by their daughter Hester van Hall Dufour and Raimond Dufour. 
  • De Popelhof was the home of great-aunt Han van Hall Vening Meinesz, youngest sister of Jan and Aat and Suze van Hall van Tienhoven, mother of Corrie.
  • Sparrenhof was formerly inhabited by Maurits and Elsa van Hall and after his death by his daughter Ellen van Hall Wurpel, who is secretary of the van Hall Foundation. She invited us in for a visit. 
  • Biekaer after the war was where Charles's mother, Sonia, went with her six children.  
Charles brought me first to the large house at Emmaplein 2 where his family lived until 1936, when the Nazis engaged in economic warfare and dispossessed those like his father Bob who had invested in I. G. Farben and other companies.

The family then moved to Zandvoort, by the seashore, where the war began.

We went nearby, to Beelslaan 3 in Haarlem, to pay a visit to Mary-Ann van Hall Boon, daughter of Wally van Hall, and her husband.


Hattem is near Zwolle, quite a distance from Amsterdam. Hester van Hall's Kolkhuis was here. I attended several celebrations of birthdays during our summer visits to Holland after World War II. The young visitors were roped into participating in skits for the enjoyment of older family members.


Drafna was built on an enormous farm that is an hour southeast of Amsterdam,  in Naarden, near the Naarden-Bussum train station. It was on the Zuyder Zee, but much of the land there was reclaimed. Naarden is a former coastal fortress town with buildings dating back to the 16th century. Charles and Emily moved there in 1897.

The house is legendary because so many children (eleven) grew up there and so many grandchildren (50), including my mother, went there for many visits.

Drafna, Naarden, in 1933. The 14-room two-story
 Norwegian chalet was home to Charles and Emily 
Boissevain and their 11 children.

My mother remembers the Golden Wedding Anniversary of her grandparents Charles and Emily in 1916, when she was 8 years old.

Large tents were set up to accommodate the crowds. She was struck by the importance of her grandparents and the importance of a Golden Wedding. She told me in 1982, the year of her own Golden Wedding:

Everyone sat at long tables under the tent awnings. I was given an ice cream cone with a photo of my grandparents stuck in it. I don't know whether all 50 grandchildren got this special treat. During the afternoon events, I remember the smell of hay everywhere. The afternoon ended with skits and performances, but I don't remember them and maybe they were only for grownups.
Theo(dora) Boissevain, who married Willem Sillem, in
front of the Drafna barn. My mother well remembered
the donkey, and also the gardener, Hena, in the background.
He acted as a security guard when the children were around.
My mother also told me that the grandchildren would often, on arrival at Drafna, make a bee-line to their library where many wonders could be found.
I earned a scolding from my Granny for doing so: "The first thing you do when you visit anywhere, is to present yourself to your hostess and greet her. I didn’t even know you had arrived." So in future I did as she told me. Since the drawing room was next door to the library, not too much time was wasted. But I have to confess I was not the most popular guest. Those who had not learned to read yet fared much better.
The late Engelien de Booy told me before she died that there was a dark side to Drafna. It was full of gaiety and fun partly because that is what Emily wanted to see. Emily liked to know that her children were successful. She positively disliked introspective children – like Engelien, who went on to earn her doctorate – or, even worse, children who seemed slow or stupid.

Hilda was too Dutch-looking and introspective for Emily. Emily preferred the grandchildren who looked the most Irish, like the six children of Robert with his first wife, Irishwoman Rosie Phibbs - or Teautie de Beaufort, who looked (as her mother Teau did) Irish.

But Hilda was a favorite of her grandfather Charles, because she was a writer like him, and was precociously clever at drawing. Hilda's first publisher was in fact her grandfather, in his newspaper, the Algemeen Handelsblad.

Polly Barker, Drafna's Resident English
Nurse-Governess (Mary Poppins).
Mary ("Polly") Barker, an English nurse, served the family from 1873 until her death in 1929. All of the eleven children and their 50 grandchildren were very fond of Polly, which suggests that Polly looked after all of the children, including those who did not measure up to Emily's expectations. My mother said she preferred Polly to Emily.

The 40-acre property outside was full of wonders One side of the driveway at Drafna was lined with lime trees. Elsewhere were many chestnut trees, which yielded edible chestnuts. Hilda got her taste there for marrons glacées, candied chestnuts, which reminded her of Drafna. The lawn was deep in clover. The property included a tennis court.

The farm included a pond and a stable and an array of animals beloved by the grandchildren - a donkey, a goat, a white horse (which had its own carriage to pull), fish and birds. The gardener was named Hein and Hilda remembers him forever having complaints about the young visitors like her.

As the children of Charles and Emily formed families of their own, they were sold or allowed to use pieces of the farm, so that five of the eleven Boissevain children, and their children, have lived in the area. The six exceptions were:
  • Hester and Jan van Hall, who moved to Zwolle and then Hattem to be on higher ground and therefore in a drier climate. The van Hall homes in Zwolle were called Astra and Little Astra, where my mother's family lived for a few years. Hester van Hall later moved to the Kolkhuis (Lake House) in Hattem, where the family came several times to parties, and I visited her alone in 1959. She would put on her cap and come out to see her guests with tea.
  • Nella and Theodor Hissink, moved to Leeuwarden in Friesland. This is the town that is drawn by my mother in A Day on Skates. A Dutch edition of this book is needed! It should have the name A Day on Skates in Friesland.
  • Teau and Fik de Beaufort, who moved to Amersfoort. Fik de Beaufort had a ducal title in France but preferred to live in Holland. Teau was the youngest of the 11 children of Charles and Emily and died first, tragically, in 1922.
  • The three youngest Boissevain boys - who found Holland constraining and married American women. Robert was the first to leave - he remarried (he left his wife Rosie and their six children in Holland, which was a scandal, but my mother said there were extenuating circumstances) an American woman who was the assistant to philanthropist Alva Vanderbilt Belmont; they lived on a chicken farm in upstate New York. Eugen followed Robert and married two truly great American Bohemian women - Inez Milholland and Edna St. Vincent Millay. Jan went to Java to work for Robert in 1914 and eventually married another Bohemian, an American actress, Charlotte Ives, and they lived in the Cap d'Antibes, where I visited her in July 1962 – she took me on an excursion into Cannes to visit a local car dealer so she could buy a new car.
When Charles Boissevain died in 1927, Emily at first stayed at Drafna with Polly. They lived in different parts of the house and entertained separately. After Polly's death, Emily moved to the home of Charles E. H. Boissevain, her eldest son, until her own death in 1931. Drafna was sold to a Theosophical School, was used as a rugby team center, and was broken down before World War II (some say it burned down) to be replaced by a stone house. In the 1970s it was sold to a Dutch company and as of 1982 was a retreat and training center.


On the South Boulevard in Zandvoort, Charles showed me the place where his family house De Duinhut formerly was. The houses are not there any more because they were were knocked down to make way for coastal fortifications. According to Joseph Goebbels in his Diaries, Hitler was sure that the invasion of Europe by the Allies would come via the beaches of Holland.

Along a 10-km. route (the shortest way) Bob, Marit and Son Boissevain had to go on their bike every day to their school in Overveen, the Lycée Kemmerer. By the end of the war most of the schools were closed.