Changing The Value Of Pi, Oh Why, Oh Why?

Letter from the Editor: I wrote this post in response to an article that I read on Huffington Post. Turns out that this story is a hoax that’s been doing the rounds on the net. I don’t know what’s scarier, that it was on a real news site, or that it seems totally plausible. Jefferson’s still out by the way.

Math. Maths. Mathematics. Whatever it was called in your part of the world, we can all agree that we hated it. I sure did. I could remember the outfits that every star wore to the Oscars, recite entire plays verbatim, tell you the entire history of Ancient Egypt. But ask me to do much beyond times tables and it’s going to be a bit of a lost cause.

Although, I do pride myself on still being able to do long division by hand. Thank you, thank you, the applause isn’t necessary…

So we can all agree math sucked. And that unless you went into a field that used math in some way like accounting, engineering, architecture etc, trigonometry and his friends and I didn’t play together after I graduated high school.

While I wasn’t the best at it, I am eternally grateful that there are those people who are. The smart folk who design and build things that make the cities that I love to live in and travel to, the transport that ferries me around the planet, the machines that make my life better.

Pi is an essential part of that. You remember Pi right? I do. It was the only thing in math that actually had some kind of back story.

Pi is a mathematical constant whose value is the ratio of any circle’s circumference to its diameter. It makes up the backbone of so much math that without it, a lot of things we take for granted wouldn’t be there.

Like buildings. Like spaceships. Like lots of other things that I don’t know.

The trick with Pi is that the mathematical expression of it is 3.14159 (and so on for 5 trillion digits). So basically there’s a lot. But they built the pyramids with it so it works and has for a long time, it’s a circle, it’s not going anywhere, so if you have to learn it, you learn it right? We all did.

Well, not here in the States.

Alabama just recently tried to change the value of Pi to 3. Just 3. Plain old 3. Why? Well apparently the member for Alabama felt that American children shouldn’t have to learn such a ridiculously difficult number. So we should change it. This proposal wasn’t put forward in the dark ages by the way, this was in April.

The sheer stupidity/audacity of this venture is gobsmackingly overwhelming. I mean, really, where do you begin?

Alabama has decided to change science. I mean why not? Let’s change the rules of how the universe holds itself together so that the children of America can have an easier day in class. You can dumb down movies and TV shows all you want so that the people who fuck their sisters because their team lost feel like their needs are being addressed.

However, just like gravity, just like an orbiting planet, just like water is wet; there are some facts in this life where there is no wiggle room. Pi is one of them.

So this got laughed out of office right? Actually, thanks to a letter writing campaign organized by the Family Values Coalition this thing really got some traction and was only narrowly defeated when the bill came to be voted on.

It’s things like this that make me scratch my head about America and where this country is going. Because here’s the other thing that I secretly think is going on; most people who support it also know that it’s dumb but it’s such a good sound bite, they say it anyway.

I really think that if something sounds good, people here are going to say it even if they don’t believe in it, like humming that annoying song that you hear everywhere. You know it’s not right, but it sounds so good, fuck it, I’ll hum the tune. Because before you need to really think about it too much, the next act in the circus is all over the news and there’s a sound bite for that which needs to be repeated.

Alabama is an extreme of course, but it’s a great example of another behavior I see in America that worries me. More than the fact that Entourage is actually still on the air.

There is a perception of a way of life here in America that I don’t think exists anymore. A myth of home cooked values, nuclear families, hard-working conservative people who as long as they stick to the simple laws of God, the orchards will always blossom and the sun will always shine. And that even though Jesus was born in an Arab country, he’s actually white.

It’s the Rockwellian portrait of America that may have existed at some time but if you can find it these days I think you’d be lucky.

Holding on hard to this mythical past is one thing, changing everything you encounter to make it fit in with this past is alarming. Yet, so much about this place resists change to the point where it doesn’t make sense. And yet many Americans still hold on with all their might for a return to American values.

Just the fact that the rest of the world booted imperial for metric forty years ago out of common sense speaks volumes. You would think America would have been happy to be rid of any vestiges of the British Empire, but they are the lone country that staggers along with this arcane system.

Text books printed in Texas now no longer include mentioning Thomas Jefferson. He was a free-thinker of his day, a deist, a man who believed that there was a greater power but that no religion was necessary to worship it. He also wrote a little thing called the American Constitution. But his non religious viewpoints mean he’s been banished from the books, his name never to be taught again.

You may remember the same techniques used in a book called 1984. It wasn’t a comedy. But Texas defend it as freedom of speech.

These triumphs over common sense are an easy thing to point at and make jokes about. And it’s also very easy to point at the religious right and blame them for everything that is loopy, ridiculous and that greases the rails of America’s headlong plummet into… whatever this country is turning into.

But the blame also rests fairly on the shoulders of the left. Instead of galvanizing the populace to say, OK enough, let’s snap out of this folks, they sit back and tut-tut and feel superior. And threaten to move to Canada.

That’s apparently easier than separating church and state.

It’s one thing to see your country go to hell in grandma’s gingham handbasket, it’s another thing to put your feet up and chow down on popcorn as the whole thing explodes. Which is as much a part of the problem as the people who dream up things like changing the order of the universe so that an A+ score on an American exam can mean less than ever before.

Dare I say it, it’s as American as dreaming up conspiracy theories.

Forget changing the value of Pi, it’s time to rethink the recipe for apple pie.

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5 Responses to Changing The Value Of Pi, Oh Why, Oh Why?

  1. David says:

    I agree we’ve been putting up our feet and eating popcorn…while we laugh along with Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert. While they are the rare voices of reason (a radical thing here), they provide an outlet for our rage which should be focused on the machine. Instead they vent for us and we get up in the morning, grumbling to NPR only to ask friends if they heard that bit on The Daily Show last night. I actually think if they weren’t around, we might get more done politically in this country. However backwards that sounds.

  2. Karl says:

    Hey there mate, I think you’ve really hit on something here. You’re right, I’m guilty of the same thing. I ask my friends if they saw that show last night, If they haven’t I retell the said ridiculous story in great detail after which we commiserate together. Which is the silent pact of the presumed intelligent. If Jon or Steven said it, then our job is already done, whereas in fact, it’s just starting. Good call mate. Karl

    • Karl says:

      Ha! Now that is funny. I checked the piece you sent and googled for more like them. It apparently is indeed a hoax. It’s a relief. Though the sad parts are that I read it on the Huffington Post as a real news article. And it sounds like it could be true. Cheers for the link mate. K

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