Archive for March, 2019

Erasing Michael Jackson

March 21, 2019

In the wake of the release of the Leaving Neverland documentary, which tells the story of two victims of sexual abuse by Michael Jackson, there has been an effort to erase the singer from history, making him into an unperson. The latest attempt has been a decision by the producers of The Simpsons to take an episode featuring Jackson’s voice permanently out of circulation.

The Simpsons is pulling an episode featuring Michael Jackson’s voice, co-creator James L. Brooks told the Wall Street Journal yesterday. “Stark Raving Dad,” which featured Jackson as the voice of a mental patient who believes that he is actually Michael Jackson, is, or has been, one of the show’s most beloved installments, coming in 10th in the Ringer’s 2017 ranking of its best episodes. But after the broadcast of Leaving Neverland, in which two men describe in detail how Jackson allegedly molested them when they were children, Brooks said that taking the episode out of circulation was “clearly the only choice to make.”

Brooks told the Journal that “Stark Raving Dad,” in which Homer is committed to a mental institution, was “a treasured episode” for him, but it’s already been removed from Simpsons World, the online portal that offers access to every—now every other— episode of The Simpsons, and Brooks said that “the process has been started” to remove it from syndication and future physical media editions. “I’m against book burning of any kind,” Brooks said, “but this is our book, and we’re allowed to take out a chapter.”

I don’t know about this. It’s true that they have every right to pull any episode they want. They don’t have to broadcast, stream, or sell DVDs of any episode of the Simpsons at all, if they don’t want to, and yet this sort of airbrushing  the past bothers me. It feels somehow Stalinist.

This is why I oppose toppling statues of Confederate generals, covering up pictures that display the Ku Klux Klan, renaming cities that were named for slave holders, consigning old movies to oblivion because they don’t meet contemporary standards of race relations. How are we supposed to learn from the past, if we don’t know anything about the past?

Considering that the child abuse allegations against Michael Jackson are decades old, why is Michael Jackson being erased and boycotted now, ten years after his death.  That documentary didn’t really reveal anything about Jackson that wasn’t already known. Yes, a jury acquitted him of child molestation back in 2005, but I don’t think anyone who wasn’t a diehard Jackson fan seriously believed that Michael Jackson was innocent, considering his odd lifestyle in which he surrounded himself with children. Jackson all but publicly announced he was a pedophile.  So why now? Why didn’t these people sever all business relations with Jackson when he was still alive. Is it safer now that he is gone? Is there no more money to be made from his name?

This also brings up the question of how do we separate the artist from his art. I was never a Michael Jackson fan, but he did make good music. I love the music of Richard Wagner, but he wasn’t an especially nice person. Wagner was an anti-Semite who borrowed money from his friends with no intention of ever repaying them, while he was seducing their wives. Beethoven was extremely hard to get along with and was an alcoholic. Mozart was not quite the obnoxious man-child depicted in the movie Amadeus, but the portrayal was not entirely inaccurate. John Lennon abused his first wife, before abandoning her and their son. These artists made sublime music while being despicable human beings. How do their human failings affect our appreciation of their art? Can we listen to the music of a man who abused children without feeling somehow defiled? Does the art transcend the man?

I think this is a question that we each have to answer for ourselves. I would rather make that decision for myself, however, rather than have it answered for me.




St. Patrick’s Day

March 17, 2019

Today is St. Patrick‘s day and I thought it might be appropriate to write about St. Patrick. So, who is St. Patrick and why does he get a day? Not very much is known for certain about his life. It is possible that his story has been confused with one Palladius, a missionary who became the first bishop of Ireland. Still, Patrick wrote a short autobiography called “The Declaration” or “The Confession” as part of a letter which seems to be genuine.

Get out snakes!

Patrick, or Patricius was a Roman who lived in Britain. He may have been born around 387 and lived until 460 or possibly 493, so he lived during the twilight of the Roman Empire in the West. At the age of 16 he was captured by raiders and enslaved. He worked as a shepherd in Ireland for about six years. He managed to escape and return to his home, but then he became a priest and returned to the land where he was a slave and worked to convert the pagans to Christianity. He seems to have been very successful during his lifetime, though there were many other missionaries in Ireland. He helped to organize the Church in Ireland and is supposed to have traveled to Rome to seek the Pope’s assistance in this endeavor.

According to legend, Patrick died on March 17, so that date has become his feast day. He has never been officially canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. He became known as a saint long before the modern procedure for canonization was developed. He is, obviously, the patron saint of Ireland, and also Nigeria, Montserrat, engineers, paralegals, and the dioceses of New York, Boston, and Melbourne.

There are many legends about St. Patrick. The most widely known is that he chased all the snakes out of Ireland, thus ruining the local ecology. Another is that he used the example of the three-leaved shamrock to illustrate the trinity.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all the Irish, and Irish at heart, out there!

Sorry about the green text. I couldn’t resist.

Pi Day

March 14, 2019
English: Pi Pie, created at Delft University o...

English: Pi Pie, created at Delft University of Technology, applied physics, seismics and acoustics Deutsch: Pi Pie (π-Kuchen), hergestellt an der Technischen Universität Delft (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For all of the nerds out there, including me, today is international Pi Day, the day when we celebrate our favorite mathematical constant. Pi Day is best celebrated by pi memorization contests, walking in circles, and, of course, eating pies, or is it pis? I think I will celebrate by writing a little about pi.

Pi or π is, as everyone should know, the ratio between a circle’s diameter and its circumference. Pi is an irrational number. By this, they do not mean that pi makes no sense but rather that pi is a constant that cannot be expressed as a ratio of two integers. Numbers like 2 or .445 or 1/2 can be expressed as a ratio of two integers and so are rational. Numbers like pi or the square root of any number that is not a perfect square, the square root of 2 for instance, are irrational. An irrational number expressed in decimal form never ends or repeats but continues to infinity. Thus, there can never be a last digit of pi.

The symbol π was first by the mathematician William Jones in 1706 and was popularized by another mathematician, Leonhard Euler. They chose π, the Greek equivalent of the Latin letter p, because it is the first letter of the word periphery. Π, by the way is not pronounce “pie” in Greek but “pee”, just like our p. I don’t think that international “pee” day would be nearly so appealing.

Although the symbol for pi is relatively recent, the concept is very old. The ancient Egyptians and Babylonians knew about it. Pi is even mentioned in the Bible.

23 He made the Sea of cast metal, circular in shape, measuring ten cubits from rim to rim and five cubits high. It took a line of thirty cubits[o] to measure around it. 24 Below the rim, gourds encircled it—ten to a cubit. The gourds were cast in two rows in one piece with the Sea. (1 Kings 7:23-24)

Properly speaking, the line around the “Sea” should have been 31.5 cubits but the ancient Hebrews were not very knowledgeable about geometry and measuring techniques were crude.

There is no particular reason to calculate pi to so many digits. No conceivable application of pi would possibly take more than 40 digits. Still, the challenge of calculating pi to the farthest digit possible has been an irresistible one for mathematicians over the years.

Around 250 BC, Archimedes was the first mathematician to seriously try to calculate pi. He used a geometric method of drawing polygons inside and outside a circle and measuring their perimeters. By using polygons with more and more sides he was able to calculate pi with more precision and ended determining the value of pi as somewhere between 3.1408 and 3.1429. Archimedes’s method was used in the west for more than a eighteen hundred years. The Chinese and Indians used similar methods. The best result using the geometric method was the calculation of pi to 38 digits in 1630.

With the development of calculus by Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz in the 1660’s it was possible to calculate pi using infinite series, or the sum of the terms of an infinite sequence. The best calculations with these methods were done by the mathematician Zacharias Daze who calculated pi to 200 places in 1844 and William Shanks who spent fifteen years to calculate pi to 707 digits. Unfortunately he made a mistake with the 528 digit. Meanwhile, in 1761 Johann Heinrich Lambert proved that pi is irrational.

Computers made the calculation of pi much faster so pi could be calculated to more digits. ENIAC calculated pi to 2037 places in 1949. This record didn’t last long. A million digits were reached 1970. As of  2011, pi has been calculated to 10,000,000,000,050 places.

Pi is not just used in geometry. There are a number of applications of pi in the fields of statistics, mechanics, thermodynamics, cosmology, and many others. Here is a list of just some of the formulae that use pi. It seems you can find pi everywhere.

With that in mind then, happy pi day! For your enjoyment here are the first thousand digits of pi.



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