Archive for the ‘My Life’ Category

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.

 

 

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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.

3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510
  58209749445923078164062862089986280348253421170679
  82148086513282306647093844609550582231725359408128
  48111745028410270193852110555964462294895493038196
  44288109756659334461284756482337867831652712019091
  45648566923460348610454326648213393607260249141273
  72458700660631558817488152092096282925409171536436
  78925903600113305305488204665213841469519415116094
  33057270365759591953092186117381932611793105118548
  07446237996274956735188575272489122793818301194912
  98336733624406566430860213949463952247371907021798
  60943702770539217176293176752384674818467669405132
  00056812714526356082778577134275778960917363717872
  14684409012249534301465495853710507922796892589235
  42019956112129021960864034418159813629774771309960
  51870721134999999837297804995105973173281609631859
  50244594553469083026425223082533446850352619311881
  71010003137838752886587533208381420617177669147303
  59825349042875546873115956286388235378759375195778
  18577805321712268066130019278766111959092164201989

 

The Nativity According to Luke

December 19, 2018

The Gospel of Luke tells us what Christmas is all about

Linus quotes from the Gospel according to Luke.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.(Luke 2:1-21)

Luke is a historian of the Hellenistic school, like Herodotus or Thucydides. Although he tries to establish times and places, he is actually less interested in being precise than in understanding the meaning of the events he records. In fact, it wasn’t so easy to give exact dates in those times, given that every city and region had its own calendar and way of numbering or naming the years.

There is a considerable amount of skepticism about the census, both on the dating and the procedure. Most skeptics regard it as extremely improbable that the Romans would make people travel here and there to register in their home towns. As a matter of fact that is just how the Romans conducted their censuses.

Every five years, each male Roman citizen had to register in Rome for the census. In this he had to declare his family, wife, children, slaves and riches. Should he fail to do this, his possessions would be confiscated and he would be sold into slavery.
But registration meant freedom. A master wishing to free his slave needed only to enter him in the censor’s list as a citizen (manumissio censu).
Throughout the entire republican era, registration in the census was the only way that a Roman could ensure that his identity and status as a citizen were recognized. Fathers registered their sons, employers their freedmen.
Primarily the census served to count the number of citizens and to assess the potential military strength and future tax revenue. Most important, the census transformed the city into a political and military community.
But the census performed a highly symbolical function. To the Romans the census made them more than a mere crowd, or barbarian rabble. It made them a populus, a people, capable of collective action.
To the Roman the census was one of the foundation stones of their civilization.

As the Roman Empire expanded and citizenship was given out to other cities in Italy and around the Mediterranean, I would imagine that every Roman citizen had to go to his native city to register. Presumably there were lists of citizens kept in major cities and in Rome. Paul claimed to be a Roman citizen at various times in Acts and you might wonder how he was able to prove it. Well, every Roman citizen had a sort of ID or diploma which would have been issued in his city.

But with the steady extension of the citizenship by individual grants to provincials isolated in peregrine communes, and with the informal settlement of large numbers of Italian immigrants in the provincial territories, a more effective means of registration became necessary. Formal documentation of the grant of citizenship to provincial soldiery appears first in 89 B.C., in the shape of a bronze tablet recording the decree of a proconsul enfranchising a unit of Spanish cavalrymen in the Social War, who are all named in a general list. Presumably each soldier received a copy. The cities of persons of higher status enfranchised by Octavian in c. 40 B.C. received a copy of a decree detailing all the privileges of their new status, while his auxiliary veterans could acquire copies of the enabling edict that enfranchised them. But it is only with the regularization of the grant of citizenship to the all time-expired auxiliaries by Claudius that a standardized document appears. This is the small bronze diptych known as the diploma civitatis, containing a brief and uniform formula conferring the Roman citizenship on the holder and his descendants, who is indicated by his name and military unit. These documents were not normally used for civilians, who received instead a copy in libellus form of the brief imperial warrant authorizing the registration of their enfranchisement in the archives at Rome.

Diplomata and libelli provided for new citizens. For the mass of the citizenry, for whom censorial registration at five-yearly intervals was an inefficient instrument, adequate provision was finally made by the creation of an official system of compulsory birth registration under the social legislation of Augustus (A.D. 4)… The Roman citizen was required to register the birth of his children within thirty days before a Roman official, and he received a wooden diptych recording the declaration, which acted as a certificate of citizenship for the child for the rest of his life. Like the military diplomata this contained the names of seven witnesses, and provided a presumptive proof of citizen status… Similarly the enfranchisement of freedmen, which depended upon a formal act, was recorded in a documentary tabella manumissionis. Citizens of diverse origins thus came to have some form of documentary evidence of their status.

Presumably Paul registered at Tarsus while he lived there. To get back to the census; obviously Joseph wasn’t a Roman citizen and Judea was under the rule of Herod, not the Romans. The census could have been a small time affair, the mention of Caesar Augustus being either an exaggeration or a long-standing policy of Augustus to encourage the provinces to conduct censuses, but conducted according to Roman norms, with every resident registering in his home town. You must not imagine, however, large crowds of people traveling to and fro. Remember that in this time most people would have lived their whole lives in the same village. Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem would have been very much an exception. The only thing really odd about this account was his taking Mary with him. As a woman, her residency would not have mattered much. In the other hand, she was also of the line of David and perhaps her presence in Bethlehem might have been desirable. Again you must not imagine that Mary was on the point of giving birth as they traveled. They could have spent several weeks in Bethlehem.

 

 

Star Wars

December 12, 2018

Not long ago, I saw the original Star Wars for the first time in many years. What I found most interesting about this movie is how well it stands up after all these years. The plot is a little silly with holes you can drive an X-Wing Fighter through, but so what? Star Wars is still a lot of fun to watch. The special effects still look impressive, not even a little dated or cheesy, as one might expect after forty years. George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic was truly a master of producing special effects in that primitive pre-computer generated effects era. For this reason, I really wish that George Lucas had not decided to enhance the original Star Wars trilogy with digital effects.

The digital additions didn’t really advance the plot and weren’t much of an improvement on the original. It was interesting to watch the scene with the confrontation between Han Solo and Jabba the Hutt, which was cut from the original. The scene did help to establish Han Solo’s mercenary character and his motive for taking Ben and Luke’s commission to transport them to Alderaan, but it wasn’t essential. The computer generated Jabba the Hutt somehow didn’t look very realistic. Jabba didn’t seem to fit in the scene.

Changing the confrontation between Han and Greedo so that Greedo shot first ruined the scene. Han Solo was supposed to be somewhat amoral, in the beginning, growing more altruistic as the trilogy progressed. Changing the scene changed the arc of Solo’s character development.

However, even if the changes and additions had been an improvement, I still would have preferred that George Lucas had not made them. The special effects of the original Star Wars movies were truly ground breaking. Before Star Wars, science fiction movies had always looked rather cheap, no matter how much money was spent on the special effects, they never really looked good. 2001: A Space Odyssey was an exception, but it had Stanley Kubrick as director. It didn’t help that science fiction was not taken very seriously as either literature or as cinema. Science fiction movies were all too often relegated to a low budget ghetto to be enjoyed by children and nerds. Star Wars changed that. Yes, the plot was thin and it was kind of a kids’ movie, but the awesome special effects showed what could be done. Star Wars made science fiction a mainstream genre. When George Lucas went back and added in the digital enhancements, it was as if he was denigrating his accomplishments. It is as if D. W. Griffith had gone back and put a sound track in Birth of a Nation.

Watching Star Wars as an adult for the nth time can never be the same as the first time I saw it as a child, particularly after seeing the sequels and prequels. It is harder to fear Darth Vader as an evil villain when you know that behind the mask is a weary old man who hates what he has become. Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi seems to be less of a noble mentor and more of a cunning manipulator when you know he lied to Luke Skywalker about his father. (Yes Ben, that was a lie, not a truth from a certain point of view.) Even the whole premise of the movie can be called into question. Was the destruction of the Jedi by Darth Vader and the Emperor really such a bad thing? The prequels show the Jedi as being more than a little arrogant and narrow-minded. Maybe it is not such a good idea to rely on a small elite of people who happen to be blessed with a high midi-chlorian count. Is the rule of Emperor Palpatine really a bad thing? The Republic that preceded his rule was shown to be corrupt and ineffective. Maybe, from a certain point of view, the Empire stands for law and order and the Rebellion is a terrorist organization. After all, George Lucas said the Ewoks were inspired by the Viet-Cong, meaning perhaps that they were genocidal fanatics just as the real life Viet Cong were. That would make the Stormtroopers the Americans, the good guys.

Then there is the similarity between the award scene at the end and the Nazi rally depicted in Triumph of the Will

But now, I am overthinking it. Star Wars has never born close examination, either of its politics or its science, and George Lucas is not as profound a thinker as he would like to pretend. Star Wars is flashy, mindless fun. This is, by no means, a criticism. There is certainly a place for flashy, mindless entertainment. In fact, I think one of the problems with Hollywood these days is that they are taking themselves too seriously. They are more intent on preaching left-wing politics than with making movies people actually want to see. Even the Star Wars franchise has fallen victim to this plague of political correctness. We need more of the original Star Wars.

Seventeen Years

September 11, 2018

It has been seventeen years since 9/11. We said that we would never forget, but I am afraid we are already forgetting. They are even starting to teach in colleges that it was our fault.   A person turning eighteen this year, old enough to vote, was only three on that fateful day. I don’t imagine that they would have any clear personal memories of that day, unless they or someone close was personally affected. I am afraid that we are trying to forget the most important lesson of 9/11, that the world is a dangerous place, and there are people out there who would like to destroy us. I suppose that even memorializing 9/11 is considered Islamophobia today.

Well, I will never forget that dreadful day seventeen years ago, no matter how long I live. We will just have to keep telling the story to the younger generations so they will not have to experience any such attacks for themselves. With that in mind, I am going to copy what I wrote three years ago.

On that Tuesday morning, I was at work, driving from Madison to North Vernon when I got a call from my wife. She asked me if I were listening to the radio. I was not. She told me to turn it on because something terrible was happening. I turned my car radio on and listened to the coverage of the attack.

I went about my duties at the stores in North Vernon in a sort of state of shock.  The North Vernon WalMart and Jay C played continuing news coverage of the day’s events instead of the usual soothing Musak. Not too many people were working or shopping in the stores. They were mostly just listening.

I had to go to Seymour for a meeting that afternoon. On the way I noticed that some gas stations had raised the price of gasoline to a then unheard of price of $5 per gallon. At the meeting, no one wanted to discus the business at hand. Instead we talked about the terrorist attack. It seemed certain to us all that more attacks were on the way and that this time we couldn’t just launch a few missiles, blow up some tents, and then move on. We were in for a long fight.

I don’t remember much about the rest of that day. I went home but I don’t remember much about it.

I was once in the World Trade Center. I was in New York with some friends as a sort of tourist and we took the elevator to the top floor of one of the twin towers. There was a gallery up there where you could look out over the city of New York. The day was foggy so I didn’t see anything. They had a gift shop in the center section of the floor. It sickens me to think that the people who worked there went to work one morning, and then had to choose between burning to death or jumping, Not to mention the tourists, who only wanted to look at the city.

It still sickens me to think about the people who were only doing their jobs having to lose their lives.

twin

 

Suicide is Painful

July 22, 2018

My brother committed suicide last week. I am not going to relate the details on when and how this tragedy happened nor will I speculate on his motives. I will respect his privacy, and the privacy of his family. The only reason that I am writing this post for the sake of any reader who may be considering suicide

Contrary to what the theme song of M*A*S*H declares, suicide is not painless. It is painful, very painful, perhaps for the person who has killed himself but certainly for the loved ones left behind. They are left with questions that will never be answered. Why did their friend or relative choose suicide? Was there any way it could have prevented? Did they do anything to trigger the decision? When a person takes their life, they leave a hole in the hearts of everyone who was close to them.

No matter how bad things may seem, they can get better. As long as there is life, there is hope, that whatever problems you may have can get resolved, but once dead, that is the end of any hope. The problems do not go away, however. They become other people’s problems, along with the mess that any death creates. If you believe that your burdens are too much to bear, why would you want to shift them onto the shoulders of the people you love most?

My brother meticulously planned his death, for over a year. In hindsight There were signs that he was preparing to end his life, but no one put the pieces together until it was too late. How could they? He seemed content with his life, despite some setbacks. He hid his distress well.

Part of my brother’s planning was insuring that his children would be well provided for after his death. He believed that his death would ensure an inheritance large enough to take care of them. I do not know how much money they are going to inherit. I do know, looking at their faces, that they would rather have their Dad back thaany amount of money

If anyone reading this post is considering suicide, please, please get help. Talk to someone, a friend, a counselor, clergy, anyone. If there is something eating away at you, don’t keep it to yourself. Open up to someone. If everything seems hopeless, think  again. You cannot know what new reasons for hope tomorrow may bring. If you do not care about yourself, think about the impact on the people around you. Suicide is never the answer.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

1-800-273-8255

 

Toys Were Us

March 18, 2018

This is sad. Toys R Us is closing all of its stores. Here’s the report from the Washington Post.

Toy store chain Toys R Us is planning to sell or close all 800 of its U.S. stores, affecting as many as 33,000 jobs as the company winds down its operations after six decades, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The news comes six months after the retailer filed for bankruptcy. The company has struggled to pay down nearly $8 billion in debt — much of it dating to a 2005 leveraged buyout — and has had trouble finding a buyer. There were reports earlier this week that Toys R Us had stopped paying its suppliers, which include the country’s largest toymakers. On Wednesday, the company announced it would close all 100 of its U.K. stores. In the United States, the company told employees closures would likely occur over time, and not all at once, according to the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal deliberations.

Toys R Us, once the country’s preeminent toy retailer, has been unable to keep up with big-box and online competitors. The recent holiday season dealt another blow to the embattled company, which struggled to find its footing even as the retail industry racked up its largest gains in years. In January, the retailer announced it would close 182 U.S. stores, or about one-fifth of its remaining Toys R Us and Babies R Us locations.

What is going to happen to all the Toys R Us kids?

I guess they all grew up and kids today get their toys from WalMart and Amazon.com.

The glory of capitalism is its ability to engage in creative destruction. Businesses and industries are all subject to the strict discipline of the market. If they can no longer serve their customers in an efficient manner, they are destroyed to make way for businesses that can. The result is, hopefully, ever-increasing prosperity. We ought not to be over sentimental about the loss of Toys R Us. The company has not been functioning well for some time. If Amazon or Walmart can deliver toys to children cheaper and more efficiently, than so much the better for all of us.

I cannot help, though, thinking that we are losing something. I know using e-commerce to deliver products right to your door is more convenient. I know superstores like WalMart are cheaper. But, I am afraid that the children of the future are going to be missing out on something special, the delight in stepping into a store full of nothing but toys. Maybe smaller toy store chains will take Toy R Us’s place. Maybe not. I guess there is no stopping progress, if that is what this is, but I regret the losses along the way.

Pi Day

March 14, 2018
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.

3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510
  58209749445923078164062862089986280348253421170679
  82148086513282306647093844609550582231725359408128
  48111745028410270193852110555964462294895493038196
  44288109756659334461284756482337867831652712019091
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The Nativity According to Luke

December 19, 2017

Here is what Christmas is all about

 

Linus quotes from the Gospel according to Luke. There are two accounts of Jesus’s birth in the New Testament, the account that Luke gives and the account that Matthew gives. Mark ignores the question of Jesus’s birth entirely, preferring to begin with Jesus’s public ministry while John actually begins his account before the nativity and moves from there to Jesus’s career. Here is Luke’s account.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.(Luke 2:1-21)

There is a considerable amount of skepticism regarding the census, both on the dating and the procedure. Most skeptics regard it as extremely improbable that the Romans would make people travel here and there to register in their home towns. As a matter of fact that is just how the Romans conducted their censuses.

Every five years, each male Roman citizen had to register in Rome for the census. In this he had to declare his family, wife, children, slaves and riches. Should he fail to do this, his possessions would be confiscated and he would be sold into slavery.
But registration meant freedom. A master wishing to free his slave needed only to enter him in the censor’s list as a citizen (manumissio censu).
Throughout the entire republican era, registration in the census was the only way that a Roman could ensure that his identity and status as a citizen were recognized. Fathers registered their sons, employers their freedmen.
Primarily the census served to count the number of citizens and to assess the potential military strength and future tax revenue. Most important, the census transformed the city into a political and military community.
But the census performed a highly symbolical function. To the Romans the census made them more than a mere crowd, or barbarian rabble. It made them a populus, a people, capable of collective action.
To the Roman the census was one of the foundation stones of their civilization.

As the Roman Empire expanded and citizenship was given out to other cities in Italy and around the Mediterranean, I would imagine that every Roman citizen had to go to his native city to register. Presumably there were lists of citizens kept in major cities and in Rome. Paul claimed to be a Roman citizen at various times in Acts and you might wonder how he was able to prove it. Well, every Roman citizen had a sort of ID or diploma which would have been issued in his city.

But with the steady extension of the citizenship by individual grants to provincials isolated in peregrine communes, and with the informal settlement of large numbers of Italian immigrants in the provincial territories, a more effective means of registration became necessary. Formal documentation of the grant of citizenship to provincial soldiery appears first in 89 B.C., in the shape of a bronze tablet recording the decree of a proconsul enfranchising a unit of Spanish cavalrymen in the Social War, who are all named in a general list. Presumably each soldier received a copy. The cities of persons of higher status enfranchised by Octavian in c. 40 B.C. received a copy of a decree detailing all the privileges of their new status, while his auxiliary veterans could acquire copies of the enabling edict that enfranchised them. But it is only with the regularization of the grant of citizenship to the all time-expired auxiliaries by Claudius that a standardized document appears. This is the small bronze diptych known as the diploma civitatis, containing a brief and uniform formula conferring the Roman citizenship on the holder and his descendants, who is indicated by his name and military unit. These documents were not normally used for civilians, who received instead a copy in libellus form of the brief imperial warrant authorizing the registration of their enfranchisement in the archives at Rome.

Diplomata and libelli provided for new citizens. For the mass of the citizenry, for whom censorial registration at five-yearly intervals was an inefficient instrument, adequate provision was finally made by the creation of an official system of compulsory birth registration under the social legislation of Augustus (A.D. 4)… The Roman citizen was required to register the birth of his children within thirty days before a Roman official, and he received a wooden diptych recording the declaration, which acted as a certificate of citizenship for the child for the rest of his life. Like the military diplomata this contained the names of seven witnesses, and provided a presumptive proof of citizen status… Similarly the enfranchisement of freedmen, which depended upon a formal act, was recorded in a documentary tabella manumissionis. Citizens of diverse origins thus came to have some form of documentary evidence of their status.

Presumably Paul registered at Tarsus while he lived there. To get back to the census, obviously, Joseph wasn’t a Roman citizen and Judea was under the rule of Herod, not the Romans. The census could have been a small time affair, the mention of Caesar Augustus being either an exaggeration or a long-standing policy of Augustus to encourage the provinces to conduct censuses, but conducted according to Roman norms, with every resident registering in his home town. You must not imagine, however, large crowds of people traveling to and fro. Remember that in this time most people would have lived their whole lives in the same village. Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem would have been very much an exception. The only thing really odd about this account was his taking Mary with him. There would have been no need for her to travel. As a woman, her residency would not have mattered much.

 

Going With the Wind

September 23, 2017

It looks like the classic movie Gone With the WInd will be the next victim of the ongoing cultural revolution., as I read in this article from Deadline Hollywood.

One of Hollywood’s iconic films is under some serious scrutiny in Memphis, Tennessee. The city’s historic Orpheum Theatre is pulling showings of Gone with the Wind after the 1939 classic was deemed as “insensitive.”

Victor Fleming’s film was part of their summer series programming. After the first screening on August 11, the Orpheum received numerous comments about the film which prompted them to drop it from their 2018 series. Based on the book by Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind starred Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh and was set in on Southern plantation during the Civil War and Reconstruction periods. Although a landmark in cinema, the film and its subject matter has seen criticism for its portrayal of people of color and its overall perspective of the South during that divisive time in history.

Admittedly, the portrayal of African-Americans in the film is not altogether positive and it does tend to glamorize the Old South, reflecting the Lost Cause or Dunning School of Confederate historiography, but Gone With the Wind is still one of the best movies ever made, from an era in which they actually knew how to  make great movies. If we are to purge the culture of every work of art, literature, or entertainment that could possibly be construed as being offensive, we are not going to have many such works left to enjoy. If every new work of art, literature or entertainment must be produced according to the most exacting standards of political correctness, very few such works will be worthwhile. Certainly none will stand the test of time to become classics.

What is the point of this cultural revolution in which statues of Confederate statues are overturned and anything related to the Old South prohibited? If it is to fight racism, then we ought to declare victory and leave the statues alone. Racism as a political and social force is dead in America. Yes, I know that there are still many prejudiced people out there. That will always be the case, as long as there are human beings. Prejudice against people who don’t look or act like us is, to some extent, hardwired into our programming. Yet, the United States in the twenty-first century is probably one of the least racist countries in history. I doubt if any other nation has done so much to reverse past injustices as we have. We are not perfect, but if perfection is the standard, we will always fall short. The people who claim that contemporary America is an oppressive regime of systemic racism are simply too ignorant of history to know what they are talking about. If you want to see true systemic racism, you only need to hop into the Wayback Machine and travel back about sixty or seventy years.

Liberals often claim that Republican politicians promote racism by speaking in coded “dog whistles” that only liberals can hear. There was a time when Democratic politicians openly supported depriving African-Americans of their civil rights. The record for the longest Senate filibuster was set 1957 when Strom Thurmond spoke for twenty-four hours against the Civil Rights Act. Black Lives Matter claims that police officers routinely shoot unarmed Black youths for other reason than racism. Upon closer examination, these innocent youths invariably turn out to be criminals who attacked the officer in question. Yet, there was a time when police officers could indeed harass and even murder Blacks with impunity. There was a time when mobs of Whites could murder Blacks with impunity. There was a time when proposals for federal laws to prevent lynching were controversial.

Read that last sentence again and let it sink in. There was a time, less than a century ago, when laws designed to stop Americans from murdering their fellow human beings who had the wrong colored skin were so controversial that they could not be passed.

In my own home town, Madison Indiana, Blacks were required to sit up in the balcony at the local theater. If they got ice cream from the local drug store, they had to eat it outside. They were not allowed to swim at the public pool. They could not attend the same schools as the White children.

Speaking of schools, there was a time when President Eisenhower had to deploy federal troops to ensure that teenagers in Little Rock Arkansas could attend a school in compliance with a Supreme Court decision. Take a look at the infamous picture taken at that time and just try to imagine the hatred those young people had to face.

That is what systemic racism is really like. We are no longer that country. Attitudes about race have changed drastically for the better in a little more than a generation, to the extent that a lot of this behavior is incomprehensible to the people who didn’t experience it. I simply cannot imagine refusing to allow someone to use a public facility because of their race. I don’t really understand why normal, decent people behaved in a manner that even a hardcore racist of today might be ashamed of. We worry about microaggressions today. Blacks of a previous generation worried about real aggressions.

Of course, there is still racism and prejudice. There will always be prejudice as long as there are human beings. It seems to me, however, that if we want to continue to make progress against prejudice, or just maintain what progress we have made, conducting a purge of everything in our culture and heritage that might be considered racist might not be a good way to go about it. I would think that if reducing racism is the goal, than we should be trying to make race less important. We ought to be striving for a world in which the color of a person’s skin is just as inconsequential as the color of their hair or eyes. Instead, the people who profess to be the most against racism seem to be trying to inject race into everything. They seem to be trying to deliberately turn people against one another by stirring up racial tensions. I wonder if the goal is not fight racism but to encourage it. Maybe they need to believe that no progress towards racial equality has been made, or that the country they are living in is hateful and evil. Maybe they want Americans to be divided rather than united. Whatever the reason, this business of driving us apart has to go with the wind.


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