My Old Kentucky Homesite

Archive for the ‘It’s History’ Category

Beck’s Third Principle: Not for Newspaper Editors?

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 07/13/2010

Very early in my blogging career, I decided that I wasn’t going to act as a clearing-house for stories covered by national newspapers. The only kinds of readers I was interested in attracting were people who didn’t need me to tell them about the day’s events. I’m not a goddamned anchorman.

And so I won’t bother to comment on the The New York Times’s story that David Berkowitz (the “Son of Sam”) has apparently been “born again.” I’ll only ask: Is that good news for everybody who didn’t get shot during his first life? Anyway, he’s now apparently having conversations with the voice of a god instead of a dog. Does he speak to it backwards?

However, I will tell you about a story covered locally here in Jesus-yucky. I don’t really object to the story being run; it’s a national first, so maybe it is news. What pisses me off is the headline: Liberty School teaches country’s beginnings. That’s a blatant falsehood, and the editors responsible should be fired immediately.

Vacation Liberty School is a money-raising, power-grabbing scheme by Glenn Beck. Naturally, its debut incarnation appeared miraculously here in the BlewGas state. Under the guise of “teaching” about the early days of America, Beck and his minions are stressing nine principles.

  1. America is good.
  2. I believe in God and He is the center of my life.
  3. I must always try to be a more honest person than I was yesterday.
  4. The family is sacred. My spouse and I are the ultimate authority, not the government.
  5. If you break the law you pay the penalty. Justice is blind and no one is above it.
  6. I have a right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, but there is no guarantee of equal results.
  7. I work hard for what I have and I will share it with who I want to. Government cannot force me to be charitable.
  8. It is not un-American to disagree with authority or to share my personal opinion.
  9. The government works for me. I do not answer to them, they answer to me.

I happen to agree heartily with a few of those points, particularly numbers 6 and 8. I have no philosophical problem with number 5 — although it should definitely apply to big corporations, too — or number 7 (except for its grammar), even though it’s merely a pose aimed at avoiding societal responsibility. (It should apply when taxpayers fund faith-based initiatives, but, of course, its proponents won’t, or can’t, make that connection.) Number 9 sounds nice, but the government doesn’t actually work for any one person; it works for the collective public. To do so effectively, it might actually have to work against certain specific individuals, like murderers, child molesters, and would-be theocrats.

Number 3 is silly, but not bad, even though it assumes that there are gradations of honesty (there aren’t). The attendees of Liberty School wouldn’t need such a principle unless they’d started off on the lying end of the spectrum, so it doesn’t hurt to ask them to try to be more truthful. Of course, the text is ironic, because Glenn Beck has made a name for himself by misrepresenting everything he discusses. He ought to be forced to read that sentence aloud every waking minute of his day, and it should be piped into his head when he’s sleeping.

The other numbers are pure bullshit. For example: The belief that one’s country is good merely because it’s one’s country is a recipe for disaster. And it contradicts number 8. Of course, the people likely to go to Vacation Liberty School don’t understand self-contradicting principles, or they wouldn’t be so gung-ho about the appropriately ordered “number 2.” The third item is non-historical; except in the case of John Adams, I don’t think there’s any indication that the rest of the Founding Fathers gave a rat’s ass what their spouses thought. (Of course, it is possible that Madison kowtowed to his wife when he had a hankering for ice cream.)

In case you’re wondering, Georgetown’s Vacation Liberty School was held at a – oh, you’ll never guess! – a Baptist church. Surprised?

Posted in Freedom from Faith, It's History, Playing Politics | 11 Comments »

The Presidents: A Not-so-scientific Ranking

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 07/04/2010

I’ve been indisposed for a while (see my next post). So I’m late acknowledging Independence Day, in celebration of which a very good friend of mine sent out this gallery of presidents, listed in order from best to worst. The scientifically derived rankings are explained in great journalistic detail by this article.

That list must be exactly right, because (1) the specific criteria are irrefutable; (2) of the 238 scholars mentioned, there’s not a single person whose name I could argue with; and (3) Siena College is well known as one of the world’s greatest institutions of learning. I’m a little surprised that they didn’t bump everyone down a place to make room for Jesus Christ at the top.

I decided it might be interesting if I did my own ranking, using my own set of scrupulously arrived at criteria. It wouldn’t be fair to my readers to ask them to wade through the entire set of names, but here are a few excerpts:

1. Lincoln (penny, 5-dollar bill)
2. Washington (quarter, 1-dollar bill)
3. Thomas Jefferson (nickel, 2-dollar bill)
4. Tie: The Roosevelts (Teddy, Franklin, Eleanor, Fala)
5. Jesus Christ (Note: in the purely secular, nation-building sense, only)
6. The Eastern Media Elite (aka The Nattering Nabobs of Negativism)
7. Jackie Kennedy
8. Josiah Bartlet
9: Three-way tie: Alexander Hamilton (10-dollar bill), Benjamin Franklin (100-dollar bill), Al Gore (Nobel Prize, Academy Award)
.
.
.
15. James (“John”) K. (“L.”) Polk
16. Game called on account of rain: Grover Cleveland (1st time), Grover Cleveland (2nd time), Grover Cleveland Alexander (P, PHI-NL/CHI-NL/STL-NL., Lifetime ERA. 2.56)
17. Edith Wilson
18. Garfield
19. Snoopy
20. Phineas T. Barnum
21. No award that year
22. Elvis
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.
.
34. Coca-Cola
35. Lexington native George Clooney
36. Tippecanoe
37. Tyler, too
38. General Motors
39. “Silent Cal” Coolidge
40. “Chatty Matty” van Buren
41. Tie: Mother Teresa, Michael Jackson
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.
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52. Chester, Al, an’ Arthur
53. Millard Fillmore East
54. Warren G. Hardly
55. The Andrews: Jackson and Johnson
56. The Andrews Sisters: Patty, Maxene, LaVerne, and Julie (Hits: “The Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Bugle Boy of Company B,” “Bei Mir Bist du Ein Spoonful von Sugar,” “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree with Anyone Else but Do-Re-Mi”)
57. Ronald Reagan (post-Alzheimer’s)
58. Ronald Reagan (pre-Alzheimer’s)
.
.
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68. Seventeen-way tie: All other presidents except for George W. Bush
69. Larry King
70. Dick Cheney, acting on behalf of Halliburton

Unlike Siena College, I haven’t included either Barack Obama (because he has served only about 18 months so far) and Sarah Palin (who hasn’t yet been elected).  I also didn’t rank Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan, because I couldn’t decide which one should be 32nd and which 33rd.  Sorry.

Posted in It's History, Seriously Silly, Useless Lists | 14 Comments »

Technology Throughout History #1

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 06/28/2010

On June 28, 1776, after emailing back and forth with a few of his friends, Thomas Jefferson sent out the following series of text messages to his entire social network.

IMHO if a guvmint isnt ur BFF it sux!

evry1 is =.
th cre8r gave us a rite 2 life, librtE and :)

K. George? NFW!
he has S4B & duz lotsa bad stuff.
hes g2g.

FYI these :Ez are now free 4eva.
CUL8R. Bring ur musket.

It’s a good thing we could communicate by cell phone back then, or we’d all be English today.

Posted in It's History, Language & Meaning, Seriously Silly | 20 Comments »

Demythologizing the Past

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 05/16/2010

As I’ve said before, many atheists spend far too much of their reading time confirming their atheism. My attitude is: If your freedom from faith is so shaky that you’ve got to pore over every godless screed available through Amazon, you’re probably still a believer deep down.

Assuming, though, that you’re really interested in expanding your mind (instead of just sponging up a few facts to use in your next losing debate with a theist), you might want to pick up a decent novel. A well-written piece of literature forces the skilled reader to see the world through others’ eyes: those of the characters and, ultimately, the author.

What better way to find oneself in a different time and a different place and a different mindset than to pick up a historical novel? Unfortunately, the majority of books published in that genre are drivel. Far too often, the writers of so-called historical novels do some cursory research and then chug out predictable potboilers peopled by wooden characters that display feelings and motivations reflecting the stupidest modern-day sensibilities. The dialogue in those books is a weird combination of modern English usage, even slang, and a few old-fashioned words ludicrously sprinkled in, usually inappropriately, for colo(u)r. Long paragraphs are devoted to “period” details about clothing, food, architecture, transportation, you-name-it — encyclopedia articles that add nothing except tediousness. Picking up such a book is like being around an annoyingly precocious child determined to tell you what he or she has learned in class today. But by far the worst thing about those third-rate novels is that they almost always include a bogus romance as the main event, as if the only thing a reader could conceivably care about history is whether some bland boy and some drab girl succeeded in hooking up. Yuck.

Because I’m a lover of both history and literature, when I do come across a historical novel that I like, I tend to get excited about it. And I can’t resist sharing my enthusiasm. Right now, I’m working my way through two — two! — historical series, both of which I’m happy to preach about (although I promise not to ring your doorbell at seven in the morning).

The first series is Gore Vidal’s Narratives of Empire, a seven-novel jaunt through American political machinations, starting in revolutionary times and ending in the 1950’s (although a very short section of the final book takes place in the year 2000).

It’s an oversimplification to say that Vidal sees the long story of the United States as a continuous chain of contests between various Machiavellians vying for power. The writing is far too rich to reduce it to a mere hook for a theme. Still, the author does deconstruct our nation’s history, cutting ruthlessly through its sacred bull. The real characters who march in and out of these books are not the same figures you learned about in high school. Oh, they have the same names, all right, but Vidal brings them to life, sometimes shockingly so, often through hilarious dialogue. Over and over again, he records ironic interchanges between people you thought you “knew.” Whenever a real person is involved in a conversation, very little is “made up;” Vidal quotes actual words written or said by the individual taking part. Even those personages for whom Vidal seems to have great respect — Lincoln is a good example — are demythologized.

I can’t quite figure out how the author manages to suck the reader in, but I found myself turning pages eagerly to find the answers to questions like: Will Aaron Burr be found guilty of treason? Is Lincoln going to be assassinated? Who the hell will win the 1876 presidential election? Yeah, I already knew what was going to happen, but Vidal transmutes foregone conclusions into page-turners loaded with intellectual suspense. That’s great writing.

The second historical series I’m making a pitch for here are the Flashman books, all twelve of them, written by George MacDonald Fraser. These were originally brought to my attention by Postman, who delivered the good news in this comment.

Flashman began his literary life as a bullying character in Tom Brown’s School Days, a preachy 19th-century novel for boys, teaching them how to grow up to be fine upstanding Victorian men. Fraser takes the book’s most interesting character, who was likely not to grow up to be a model English gentleman, and examines his life. The adult Flashman is a coward (he calls himself a “poltroon”), a womanizer, a liar, cheat, racist, sexist, and xenophobe. But somehow, he becomes an unlikely star in just about every war fought by the English-speaking peoples of his time.

The conceit of the novels is that Flashman, looking back from old age, has chronicled his life in “packets,” sheaves of remembrances that relate self-contained episodes. The main character screws his way around the world, showing up to play reluctant “hero” in such places as Afghanistan, India, North America, China, the Crimea, and Madagascar, to name just a few venues in which he appears. Fraser, the “editor” of Flashman’s memoirs, helpfully supplies footnotes, appendices, glossaries, and maps.

The series was begun in 1969, near the tail end of James Bond’s original burst of popularity. So it’s possible to read the novels as tongue-in-cheek adventure tales, a la Ian Fleming. Or you could read them as satirical send-ups of military reminiscences. Certainly, each book contains a few history lessons, although you’d have to be a very serious dullard, indeed, if you opened these volumes merely to learn something.

MacDonald’s skill is in creating a believably unbelievable character who, by all rights, should be hateful to nearly every reader. The fact that we find ourselves rooting for him again and again must be related to our human DNA: we’re genetically programmed to be fascinated by hedonistic scoundrels. (Think of all those real-life lying, cheating bastards who keep us spinning through the news cycle.)

As Vidal does, MacDonald manages to un-deify some of the demigods of the past. He also introduces us to real characters whose actual words and actions seem too far-fetched for fiction. (MacDonald uses many of his notes to tauntingly tell the reader “Yep, that’s true. Gotcha!”)

Both series of novels contain plenty of treasures for cynics. The authors tell us, again and again in dozens of ways, not to take for granted anything that we’ve “learned.” Yes, both Vidal and MacDonald seem to say, textbook history may well be written by the victors. But there are always a few skeptics who joyfully refuse to get taken in by the propagandistic claptrap. Nothing in this world should be accepted unquestioningly, should be so sanctified that it can’t be reflected in a satirist’s funny mirror.

Remember: freethinking is not limited only to the subject of theology.

Narratives of Empire
Burr
Lincoln
1876
Empire
Hollywood
Washington, D.C.
The Golden Age
The Flashman Series
Flashman
Royal Flash
Flash for Freedom!
Flashman at the Charge
Flashman in the Great Game
Flashman’s Lady
Flashman and the Redskins
Flashman and the Dragon
Flashman and the Mountain of Light
Flashman and the Angel of the Lord
Flashman and the Tiger
Flashman on the March

Posted in Books & Bookshops, It's History | 45 Comments »

Homesite Puzzler #2: Presidents Day Quiz

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 02/11/2010

Nowadays, our elected officials miss no opportunity to spout pieties. It would be a secular miracle, indeed, to find an American politician who had anything negative to say about religion. This situation was not always so, however.

Monday is Presidents Day (and please note that there is no apostrophe anywhere in the holiday’s name). I know I’m four days early with this puzzler, but I want to give you a big head start on your celebrations. I do this as a holiday gift to my readers because you’ll all probably be too busy over the weekend honoring our historic leaders in the traditional American way: by trading pictures of them for sale items at the mall.

Also, you may need a little time to work your way through this quiz on American Presidents and their ideas about religion. Those of you who actually know something about our country’s history may be able to use their knowledge to figure out many of the answers. But I’m confident that, even if you ‘ve seen some of these questions before, you won’t get 100%. Hell, I didn’t — and I created this goddamned quiz.

Give yourself 5 points for every item you get right. [Note: You can find the correct answers appended as the first comment to this post. But no peeking!)

1. Who said:

I do not believe in the divinity of Christ, and there are many other of the postulates of the orthodox creed to which I cannot subscribe.

A. Grover Cleveland
B. Franklin Pierce
C. William Howard Taft
D. Rutherford B. Hayes

2. Which two presidents are quoted here?

[O]f course like every other man of intelligence and education I do believe in organic evolution. It surprises me that at this late date such questions should be raised.

Well, it’s a theory, it is a scientific theory only, and it has in recent years been challenged in the world of science and is not yet believed in the scientific community to be as infallible as it once was believed. But if it was going to be taught in the schools, then I think that also the biblical theory of creation, which is not a theory, but the biblical story of creation, should also be taught.

A. Franklin D. Roosevelt and George W. Bush
B. Woodrow Wilson and Ronald Reagan
C. John F. Kennedy and George H. W. Bush
D. Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter

3. George W. Bush said:

I, in the state of Texas, had heard a lot of discussion about a faith-based initiative eroding the important bridge between church and state.

Two of our previous leaders knew the difference between a bridge and a wall. Which presidents said:

Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church and the private school supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and state forever separate.

Whatever one’s religion in his private life may be, for the officeholder, nothing takes precedence over his oath to uphold the Constitution and all its parts — including the First Amendment and the strict separation of church and state.

A. Ulysses S. Grant and John F. Kennedy
B. William McKinley and Bill Clinton
C. Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt
D. James Garfield and Calvin Coolidge

4. Which presidents could have had the following debate?

We should live our lives as though Christ were coming this afternoon.

The Christian god is a three-headed monster; cruel, vengeful, and capricious … One only needs to look at the caliber of people who say they serve him. They are always of two classes: fools and hypocrites.

A. George W. Bush and James Madison
B. Jimmy Carter and Thomas Jefferson
C. George H. W. Bush and Abraham Lincoln
D. Ronald Reagan and John Adams

5. Who said:

I have seldom met an intelligent person whose views were not narrowed and distorted by religion.

A. James Buchanan
B. Franklin Pierce
C. Herbert Hoover
D. Martin Van Buren

6. Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and The American Crisis were arguably the most important writings of the Revolutionary War period. Yet, two presidents disagreed about Paine’s heritage. Which presidents referred to him in the following ways:

[He] needs no monument made with hands; he has erected a monument in the hearts of all lovers of liberty.

… that filthy little atheist

A. Thomas Jefferson and Richard Nixon
B. James Monroe and Ronald Reagan
C. James Madison and Harry Truman
D. Andrew Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt

7. What president said the following, and what was the occasion?

In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future.

A. George W. Bush on the funding of faith-based initiatives
B. Abraham Lincoln on the words “In God We Trust” being engraved on coins
C. James K. Polk on the spread of Protestantism as a result of our “manifest destiny”
D. Dwight D. Eisenhower on “Under God” being added to the Pledge of Allegiance

8. Who said:

I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered as patriots. This is one nation under God.

A. George W. Bush
B. Franklin D. Roosevelt
C. George H. W. Bush
D. Theodore Roosevelt

9. Which president once told reporters:

I am a Christian, and I am a devout Christian. I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe that that faith gives me a path to be cleansed of sin and have eternal life.

A. Barack Obama
B. Bill Clinton
C. Jimmy Carter
D. Richard Nixon

10. Which president’s attitude about religion is expressed by:

Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise, every expanded prospect.

A. John Quincy Adams
B. James Monroe
C. Warren G. Harding
D. James Madison

11. Who said:

I am tolerant of all creeds. Yet if any sect suffered itself to be used for political objects I would meet it by political opposition. In my view church and state should be separate, not only in form, but fact. Religion and politics should not be mingled.

A. John Quincy Adams
B. Millard Fillmore
C. Franklin Pierce
D. Martin Van Buren

12. Which two presidents might have had this debate about morality:

The truth is, politics and morality are inseparable. And as morality’s foundation is religion, religion and politics are necessarily related. We need religion as a guide. We need it because we are imperfect.

Twenty times in the course of my late reading, I have been upon the point of breaking out: This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it!

A. George H. W. Bush and James Madison
B. Herbert Hoover and Thomas Jefferson
C. Ronald Reagan and John Adams
D. Lyndon B. Johnson and Abraham Lincoln

13. Which little-known president is responsible for the following amazing quote?

The United States has adventured upon a great and noble experiment, which is believed to have been hazarded in the absence of all previous precedent — that of total separation of Church and State. No religious establishment by law exists among us. The conscience is left free from all restraint and each is permitted to worship his Maker after his own judgment. The offices of the Government are open alike to all. No tithes are levied to support an established Hierarchy, nor is the fallible judgment of man set up as the sure and infallible creed of faith. The Mohammedan, if he will to come among us would have the privilege guaranteed to him by the Constitution to worship according to the Koran; and the East Indian might erect a shrine to Brahma if it so pleased him. Such is the spirit of toleration inculcated by our political institutions… The Hebrew persecuted and down trodden in other regions takes up his abode among us with none to make him afraid… and the Aegis of the government is over him to defend and protect him. Such is the great experiment which we have tried, and such are the happy fruits which have resulted from it; our system of free government would be imperfect without it.

A. John Tyler
B. Chester Alan Arthur
C. James K. Polk
D. Benjamin Harrison

14. Which two presidents of two different parties could have agreed on these ideas?

No matter what other personal desires or crises we have faced, I’ve never forgotten that this is the time to celebrate the birth of the Baby Jesus, and the impact of this event on the history of the world.

It is only when men begin to worship that they begin to grow.

A. George W. Bush and Bill Clinton
B. Warren G. Harding and Woodrow Wilson
C. Franklin D. Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover
D. Jimmy Carter and Calvin Coolidge

15. Who said:

Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither justice nor freedom can be permanently maintained. Its interests are intrusted to the States and the voluntary action of the people. Whatever help the nation can justly afford should be generously given to aid the States in supporting common schools; but it would be unjust to our people and dangerous to our institutions to apply any portion of the revenues of the nation or of the States to the support of sectarian schools. The separation of Church and State in everything relating to taxation should be absolute.

A. Andrew Johnson
B. Rutherford B. Hayes
C. William McKinley
D. James A. Garfield

16. Which two presidents could have had this discussion about education?

I believe God did create the world. And I think we’re finding out more and more and more as to how it actually happened.

There is no need to teach that stars can fall out of the sky and land on a flat Earth in order to defend our religious faith.

A. Richard Nixon and Lyndon B. Johnson
B. John F. Kennedy and Harry Truman
C. George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter
D. Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan

17. Which two presidents had the following different ideas about religious sensitivity?

The Jews, I find are very, very selfish. They care not how many Estonians, Latvians, Finns, Poles, Yugoslavs or Greeks get murdered or mistreated as D[isplaced] P[ersons] as long as the Jews get special treatment. Yet when they have power, physical, financial, or political, neither Hitler nor Stalin has anything on them for cruelty or mistreatment to the underdog.

If they are good workmen, they may be of Asia, Africa, or Europe. They may be Mohometans, Jews or Christians of any Sect, or they may be Atheists.

A. Harry Truman and George Washington
B. Franklin D. Roosevelt and James Monroe
C. Dwight D. Eisenhower and Grover Cleveland
D. Richard M. Nixon and Theodore Roosevelt

18. These two presidents would be horrified at all the faith talk in the present-day political arena. Who are they?

Voters … make up their minds for many diverse reasons, good and bad. To submit the candidates to a religious test is unfair enough — to apply it to the voters is divisive, degrading and wholly unwarranted.

If there is one thing for which we stand in this country, it is for complete religious freedom, and it is an emphatic negation of this right to cross-examine a man on his religion before being willing to support him for office.

A. William Howard Taft and William McKinley
B. John F. Kennedy and Theodore Roosevelt
C. Herbert Hoover and Harry Truman
D. Ulysses S. Grant and Abraham Lincoln

19. The country lucked out when neither of these two religious nuts were elected. What two losing candidates said:

If we have to give up either religion or education, we should give up education.

I believe that the purpose of life is to glorify God.

A. Charles Evans Hughes and Alfred E. Smith
B. Alf Landon and Barry Goldwater
C. William Jennings Bryan and Al Gore
D. Bob Dole and George McGovern

20. Who said:

We have the most religious freedom of any country in the world, including the freedom not to believe.

A. Richard M. Nixon
B. Lyndon B. Johnson
C. Barack Obama
D. Bill Clinton

[For these and many other great quotes, I highly recommend that you read 2000 Years of Disbelief by James A. Haught and The Quotable Atheist by Jack Huberman — or simply visit Positive Atheism.]

Posted in Freedom from Faith, Holidays, It's History, Playing Politics, Puzzles and Games | 16 Comments »

Great Moments in Stupidity #1

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 02/04/2010

Since my last post dealt with modern-day legislative idiocy in Kentucky, I feel it’s only fair to acknowledge that governmental  numskullery is limited neither to the present day nor to the Bluegrass State.  Tomorrow, February 5, is a significant date in the history of Representatives Gone Wild. Here’s why:

In 1896, through a set of bogus calculations, a Hoosier “mathematician” named Edwin J. Goodwin arrived at an “aha!” moment. Working in the appropriately named town of “Solitude,” he discovered how to square the circle, a problem that had been unsuccessfully attacked for millennia by far greater minds than his. But with the confidence only possible to a crank, Goodwin was sure that his results would be useful to real estate speculators, political wheeler-dealers, and various hustlers of all kinds. Of course, being a true get-up-and-go American, he  planned to sell his “invention” to everyone who would pay for it. But, first, he needed some official recognition.

So the “genius” copyrighted his work, and then made a money-making suggestion to his state representative. How about if Goodwin granted Indiana the right to use his formulas for free, in exchange for a share in the royalties that were sure to come ringing in from around the globe?

Thus it was that Democratic Representative Taylor Record submitted

a bill for an act introducing a new mathematical truth and offered as a contribution to education to be used only by the State of Indiana free of cost by paying any royalties whatever on the same, provided it is accepted and adopted by the official action of the Legislature of 1897.

Apparently, none of the elected representatives realized that a mathematical “truth” could be protected neither by copyright nor patent – nor, for that matter, by any other governmental action.

On February 5, 1897, that bill was resoundingly passed in the Indiana House of Representatives by a vote of 67 – 0.  Although the document didn’t spell out its truth in so many words, it essentially established a new, improved value for one of the most important ratios in mathematics. From thenceforward, at least in the state of Indiana, pi would equal 3.2.

On the advice of a real mathematician from Purdue, however, several Indiana senators contrived to have the upper house’s vote on the bill postponed indefinitely. When the year was over (all 365 days of it – even in Fort Wayne, Kokomo, and Muncie), the bill was dead.

Still: Happy (Almost) Anniversary, Indiana Pi Bill! Please make mine coconut custard.

Posted in Idiots, It's History | 25 Comments »