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  • Writer's pictureMeirion Harries

DAY SEVENTY FIVE Quantum Entanglement

At the weekend, I cycled across from Stuttgart to Ulm, quite a small town on the river Danube. (I forgot to mention that Stuttgart got its name from the stud farm that was established there in the tenth century to breed cavalry horses to take on the Magyar hordes riding in from the east.)

Ulm is not well-known but it is remarkable. The tallest church steeple in the world (Ulm Minster – 530 feet) is here; close by, Rene Descartes had on the same night three visions that were to change the course of philosophy. As he described it, the Divine suggested that he apply mathematical principles to philosophy. With infallible guidance and his new invention of analytical geometry (which defines geometrical shapes numerically), he realised that “all truths were linked to one another”. What he needed was a truth that could be his starting point - and he found it in cogito ego sum.

One pure mathematician nurtured by Ulm is Johann Faulhaber - remembered for his Faulhaber Formula (which, of course, expresses the sum of the p-th powers of the first n positive integers as a (p + 1)th degree polynomial function of n).

The list of famous Ulmians goes on: Erwin Piscator, progenitor of epic theatre with Brecht; Claudia Roth, former chair of the Greens; Annemarie Huste, chef to Jackie Kennedy; Johannes Kepler, astronomer; the 'Duke of Dirt', Hermann Duckek, equestrian; Hans and Sophie Scholl, founders of the White Rose resistance movement; Herbert von Karajan, Kapellmeister in Ulm; and someone that I hope we can talk about soon, Otto 'Otl' Aicher, co-founder of the world-changing Ulm School of Design.

Most famous person of all, though, was Albert Einstein. There is a nice story about Einstein and that other great German theoretical physicist, Max Planck, who invented quantum physics and was the first to give credence to the theory of relativity. The two were close friends and when Planck became Dean of Berlin University, he established a Chair for Einstein – and of an evening, Planck and Einstein would play chamber music (piano and violin).

Einstein and Planck in 1931 (c)oup

I was thinking about what Einstein called the 'spooky' world of entangled particles as I rode into Ulm. Not because my physics is great, but because in Minnesota, USA, there is a town called New Ulm which at points in its history has had quantum bonds with its namesake.

To this day, it is the most German of American cities. I remember visiting in the 1970s, when police cars were still labelled Polizei and people in the streets spoke German. My lunch memory is of Gritzwurst - pork sausage and oatmeal mashed together and fried in bacon fat. Above the town still stands a statue of Hermann - the German national hero who, in 9 AD, crushed three Roman legions in the Battle of Teutoberg Forest and sacrificed their officers to Germanic gods (according to Tacitus).

the first settlers of New Ulm in 1854 (c)wikicommons

New Ulm was founded in the 1850s by Germans (mostly from old Ulm) who needed to escape worsening nativist attacks in the big cities. It's hard to credit it now, but the wave of German (not Jewish) immigration was regarded as a threat. To the majority Protestant population, these Catholic, radical, beer-drinking, often destitute people were not welcome. But America is large and the new settlers acquired a pleasant corner next to the Minnesota River and founded New Ulm.

Quickly, the town grew - its history a microcosm of America: a flourmill; potteries; cigar factory; brickyards, and, recalling their roots, five breweries and a vinegar factory. The social norms were shaped by Turnerism – a German association of clubs devoted to 'sound mind in a sound body'. In nineteenth century America, the Turners were the largest German-American Association in the country. Socialist and free-thinking, the way the town was organised reflected their values. For example, the town planners gave each family four acres of land for vegetables, chickens, pigs, cows and, most essential, a smokehouse to preserve hams and sausages through the mid-western winter.

But this was not the quantum entanglement I was thinking about - the spooky connection is conflict. After the Napoleonic Wars, as reparations, the French were made to pay for a series of forts to defend Germany against any further invasion. The fortress eventually built at old Ulm with French money could house 100,000 men and their equipment - secure behind a massive wall encircling the city.

Anton Gag's 1904 painting The Attack on New Ulm (c)wikicommons

In 1862, the Minnesotans had to build their own encircling barricade during the Dakota War. By the mid-nineteenth century, the extraordinary Native American civilisation that had filled the continent for millennia was gone, destroyed by disease and genocide. The town of New Ulm, for example, was built on fertile lands only recently 'liberated' from the Dakota. These Eastern Sioux had ceded their lands in Minnesota in return for promises of compensation. Corrupt administrators pocketed the Dakota's money and the influx of settlers overwhelmed their fishing grounds, cut down their forests and hunted their elk and deer to extinction. By 1862, the Dakota tribe was literally starving to death - and they knew that they would not be the first or the last Native Americans to die in this way.

In August, Chief Little Crow met with US government officials and begged for food - even on credit. One of the government traders, Andrew Myrick, said "So far as I am concerned, if they are hungry let them eat grass or their own dung."

On 17th August, a Dakota warrior stole some eggs – and killed the three settlers who had got in his way. That night, the tribe led by Little Crow decided to go to war. In a letter to the Governor of Minnesota, Little Crow explained their decision:

Dear Sir – For what reason we have commenced this war I will tell you. It is on account of Maj. Galbraith we made a treaty with the Government a big for what little we do get and then cant get it till our children was dieing with hunger – it is with the traders that commence Mr A J Myrick told the Indians that they would eat grass or their own dung.

The Dakota began to raid towns and villages down the Minnesota River. On 18th August, Little Crow led an attack on Andrew Myrick's trading post: his body was found later, his mouth stuffed with grass. On the following day, the Dakota attacked New Ulm. The citizens had by then sealed themselves behind barricades in the centre of the town - wishing, no doubt, for the mighty walls of the Bavarian redoubt. Some of the Dakota got through and most of the town was torched. But Ulm held out against that attack and another one six days later - long enough for the US army, which was otherwise preoccupied with the Civil War, to mobilise men and artillery sufficient to put down the insurrection.

Little Crow's campaign killed about 800 people. But the settlers along the Minnesota River had been lucky because not all the warriors had joined him – he could have led a force of around 4,000. As it was, the army rounded up 498 men and tried them before a military commission that gave not more than five minutes consideration to each case. 300 were sentenced to death: President Lincoln commuted most of the death sentences but, even so, 38 were hanged in what remains the greatest mass execution in American history.

Little Crow escaped - but was shot in July of the following year while he was gathering raspberries with his son. When he was identified, his skull and scalp were taken and put on display in St. Paul - where they remained until 1971, when they were returned to the family for burial.

A worrying hour on quantum entanglement -

The story of New Ulm -

Images of the Dakota people in a story of the War -

A famous son of New Ulm - Whoopee John Wilfahrt, the Polka King -

Paul Revere & The Raiders -

Cher on a very well behaved horse -

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Jul 08, 2020

Minnesota sounds about the same....

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