JUNE 2020

JUNE   2020
He Has Dragged Us Back Forty Years.


Saturday, March 18, 2017


I believe the legend which says the first time Major-General Louis Berthier met Napoleon Bonaparte, in March of 1786, he confided to a fireside comrade, "I don't know why, but that little bastard scares me." He was called "Berthier the Ugly" because of his squat build, a head that seemed three times too large for his body, featuring a large hook nose that thrust from between his cheeks like a prehistoric parrot's beak. In addition he was clumsy and given to chewing his fingernails. Add in a dose of social ineptness, and you had Berthier, the man. He was also a genius of detail. He spent his entire adult life in the military, rising through the ranks under the “Old Regime”. He had fought with distinction under Rochambeau at Yorktown, Virginia in 1781 during the American revolution. And  then, he met his doppelganger - Napoleon Bonaparte.
The young Napoleon was  handsome,. almost pretty, short but a firebrand of energy.  At 26 years of age he was already a blazing comet on the French political scene, the fresh faced new man of action, while 42 year old “ugly, little” Berthier,  had survived the revolution by keeping his huge head so low it could not be conveniently guillotined. But perhaps Berthier sensed impending disaster on that blistery March morning when they first met. Perhaps on some level he understood that the “Little Corsican” who stood before him would use him over the next 20 years to slaughter a million Frenchmen and three million others who would die opposing Napoleon. I wonder if he also sensed the sacrifice of all those bunnies, as well?Napoleon’s amazing string of victories with Berthier began at Montenotte, in Piedmont on 12 April and continued at the bridge at Lodi on 10 May 1796.  Berthier was there both times, sharing the hardships and basking in the reflected glory as Napoleon’s Chief of Staff and than a Marshal of France, organizing the now Emperor Napoleon’s complete victory, at "Austerlitz" in 1805.
By the summer of 1807 Napoleon was the master of Europe, referred to by his implacable English foes as "The Beast of Europe". And "Bonney" would not have been half so accomplished if it were not for the efforts of ugly, efficient little Berthier.And so it was obvious that when the Emperor sought an afternoon’s diversion, a summer picnic and a hunt in the Paris countryside, it would be Berthier who would organize the entire day. Surely the man who could plan the conquest of nations could arrange a simple afternoon’s hunt.The humans arrived en mass, like a column of infantrymen swarming a defensive position. The Emperor went nowhere alone anymore. A regiment of cavalry stood guard. Messengers arrived and were dispatched forth all day -  for an Empire run by one man cannot survive long without assurance that the master is always watching, and always watching everything.There were ambassadors and royalty and a dozen Marshals covered in glittering gold braid. There were Generals to carry the Marshals' eyeglasses and purses and fans. There were servants to serve the lunch and keep the Champagne glasses bubbling over. There were chiefs to cook the lamb and fish and chicken Marengo. There were dozens of carriages and wagons to carry them all from their palaces and mansions and back home again.And once the open air repast was digested the Emperor and his guests put away their knives and Champagne glasses and took up their weapons. Berthier had prepared this too, down to the smallest detail. Marshal Berthier had attempted to obtain wild rabbits captured locally, but the peasant farmers had been taxed so heavily to pay for all that gold braid, all those cannon and horses and muskets  that they had stripped the local woods and fields of wild rabbits.So the ever resourceful Berthier (That's him in an 'official' painting above, with the reality edited out of him), bought every domesticated rabbit in the Paris market, some 30,000 of them in all. The beasts had been fattened in pens and cages all their lives. They were released the afternoon before the hunt, in the chosen field. There were beaters, to drive the bunnies to the guns, for an Emperor does not have all day to spend stalking his prey. So as the Emperor Napoleon advanced into the field with his musket held at the ready, Berthier gave the signal, and the beaters advanced.And such was the sight then seen, the likes of which had never been seen before in all of history. And never would be seen again, either.Thirty-thousand Leporidae Oryctolagus cuniculus (European bunny rabbits) charged desperately toward the first human they had seen in 24 hours - a human being the source of all food and warmth in their entire sheltered lives. The figure must have seemed the answer to a domesticated rabbit’s hopes and prayers after a cold night in the strange, forbidding emptiness of a field. And the mother figure out front was the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.It was a harebrained stampede! If they could have spoken they would have cried out in unison in their little bunny voices, “Take me home, take me home, get me out of here!” But they could not cry out. They could not speak. Bunnies don't talk. And so what Napoleon saw as he entered the field with “rodenticide” in his heart, was thirty thousand bunnies stampeding remorselessly toward him, perhaps with regicide in their hearts.Where they afflicted with a pestilence? Where they part of a devilish English plot to murder him?  Napoleon had no way of knowing, and little time to decide. But even if the Emperor had suspected the actual cause behind the stampeed of cottontails, hunting is not much of a sport when the prey rush you and demand to be butchered en mass.The servants thrashed at the rabbits with whips.  The ambassadors and royalty snickered behind their lace cuffs. And the loyal Generals and Marshals of France threw their gold braid between the homesick bunnies and their Emperor. The sacrifice was futile. For the first time in his life (but not the last) the Emperor of Europe, Napoleon I, was forced to retreat to his royal coach, and then to withdraw back within the walls of his palace, his afternoon sport spoiled.It was prescience of the night after Waterloo, of the snowy road home from Moscow, of the voyage to exile on Elba and then St. Helena. At a time when no human force could stand up to the 'Beast of Europe', Napoleon had been defeated by an army of bunny rabbits.  Vive la Peter Cottontail!
- 30 -

Friday, March 17, 2017


I find the two mysteries tragically familiar. It was after midnight, Sunday March eighth, local time when the Boeing jet roared down runway 32 right, before heading north toward the Gulf of Thailand. And it was just about midnight Tuesday July Second, Greenwich Mean Time, when the Lockheed Electra lifted off the grass airfield twelve time zones east of Greenwich, in the center of the village of Lae, Papua New Guinea, before climbing eastward out over the Solomon Sea.
Both machines were state of the art, the best available design, with years of dependable service behind them.  Both carried fuel enough for their intended 2,000 mile flights. Both pilots were well trained and experienced. And at first the two flights were routine, on course and on time. And then, suddenly, both planes were gone. Vanished. Poof! As if with the wave of a magician's hand. And if in retrospect neither search was as extensive and exhaustive as it originally seemed, this may not bode well for finding Malaysian flight 370, because almost eighty years later we still don't know what happened to Amelia Earhart.
Five hours after take off the thirty year old aviatrix reported back to Lea, via her 50 watt transmitter, that she was crossing 150 degrees east longitude, and 7 degrees south of the equator at 10,000 feet. The Electra's estimated ground speed was 140 knots (160 mph), the air temperature was 90 degrees Fahrenheit and visibility limited only by the humidity. She signed off with her call sign, KHAQQ. Three hours later, in the dark and right on time, Earhart's Electra flew over the United States Navy tug, Ontario. But it was here that things started to go wrong.

The tug was right where it was supposed to be, at 165 degrees 20 minutes east, and 2 degrees 59 minutes south, approximately the half way point for this leg of Earhart's round the world flight. The seas were calm, with the Ontario reporting visibility of at least 40 miles, cloud cover of only 20 - 40%. But Amelia was expecting the Ontario to broadcast the letter “N” in Morse code (dash -dot) for five minutes, beginning ten minutes after the hour, on 400 kilocycles. However the Ontario was instead broadcasting the letter” A” (dot-dash), every hour on the half hour, at 7500 kilocycles. They never contacted each other, but at 0800 GMT, Amelia reported back to Lea, that she was at 12,000 feet, on time and on course.

Despite the miscue, we know Amelia and her navigator, Fred Noonan, were on time and course because they overflew the tramp steamer Mytlebank, about a hundred miles northeast of the Ontario. The third mate heard the plane to his starboard, at just about the same time the ship's radio operator heard Amelia broadcast, “Ship in sight, ahead”. That encounter, ten hours out of Lea, had Earhart and Noonan flying into the rising sun of 2 July, 1937, well over half way toward their destination across the international date line, where it was just Tuesday morning on tiny Howland Island.

It was a curious target. The kidney shaped coral atoll was just a mile long and about a half mile wide. It's highest point was just nine feet above the surf. To spot it from the air, you had to practically be parked on its crushed coral runway.  But it was United States territory, its bird droppings mined by American nitrate companies since the middle of the 19th century. 

Howland was occupied in three month rotations by four students of an Hawaiian boys school, and they called their tiny collection of huts Itascatown, after the 250 foot long Coast Guard cutter that supplied the outpost. And it was the Itasca, anchored just outside the western reef , commanded by Walter Thompson, that was supposed use it's two hundred foot mast to make radio contact and guide Earhart's plane to a safe landing.

The sun rose over Howland Island at 17:15 GMT. Forty-five minutes later, with Amelia reporting she was within 100 miles of the Itasca, radioman 3rd class William Galten heard Amelia' asking, “Please take bearings on us and report in half an hour."  It was a simple request, but Galten would be unable to comply, because the Itasca's CGR-321 transmitters did not have any directional capability or meters on 3105 frequency to indicate her signal strength.
Rather, Galten estimated the Electra's distance based on the volume of Amelia's voice, which Galten labeled as a four out of a possible five. She was close, but it was purely a subjective measurement. To get direction to her signal and thus a better distance, required the use of a separate unit on the Itasca's bridge, operated by radio man third class George Thompson. But he found Amelia's broadcasts were too short to give him a fix.  At its core, the problem was not merely technical, but generational.
The established military and shipping industry, traveling at ten to twenty miles an hour, still relied on Morse code, because it provided longer range at lower power (and lower frequencies). But aviators, like Earhart, traveling at over a hundred miles an hour, preferred the shorter range of higher frequency voice communications. This mismatch manifested itself when Galten was forced to tell Amelia, “Cannot take bearing on 3105 (kilocycles)...Please send on 500 (kilocycles) or do you wish take bearing on us?” At 18:58 GMT Amelia asked Itasca to send signals at 500, but three minutes later radioed, “We received your signals but unable to get a minimum. Please take bearing on us and answer 3105 with voice.” But he had just told her, he could not do that!
Nothing was working, and panic began to mount on the Itasca. Forty minutes later Earhart was reduced to telling Galten, “We are on the line 157, 337. Will repeat this message on 6210”. Now she was introducing a third, even higher frequency, on which the Itasca equipment could not broadcast voice. The frustration was palpable. One five seven and three three seven were north, south compass headings, and both passed directly over Howland Island. Amelia seemed so close and yet out of reach.
Captain Thompson (above) felt the urge to do something, to move. At 22:10 GMT, when Thompson figured Amelia's fuel would have run out, Itasca raised anchor and made steam toward the north and west, where Thompson thought there was enough cloud cover that might have hidden Howland Island from Amelia's eyes. But after three fruitless days, he switched his search to the north and east of Howland Island. When that also failed, the USS Colorado was ordered to take over the search.
Joined by biplanes from the aircraft carrier Lexington, and even two Japanese ships, the searchers spent 19 days covering some 94,800 square miles in a surface search, and another 167,481 square miles by air. It was not until a week after Amelia disappeared that a search plane from the Colorado, piloted by Lt. John Lambrecht, flew over a small island on the 157 line, 360 miles south east of Howland. The pilot reported, “signs of recent habitation were clearly visible” despite the island having been uninhabited for forty years. However “repeated circling...failed to elicit any answering wave...” That tiny oasis was named Gardner Island, and no one inspected it on foot for another 30 months.
After 19 days, and $4 million (64 million in today's dollars), the search was called off. Amelia Earhart was legally declared dead on 5 January, 1939.  And on December 20th of that same year, 20 Gilbertese natives were landed on Gardner Island, for the same reason the Hawaiian students had occupied Howling - to establish an international legal claim.
It was the British government's last attempt at empire expansion, and was headed by colonial officer Gerald Gallagher. The next year (1940) Gallagher reported finding 13 human bones, a partial skeleton “possibly that of a woman," and “an old-fashioned sextant box” on the island's southeast corner.  Back in Britain, Nazi planes were bombing London, and the report was given little thought. The bones were shipped off to colonial offices on Fiji, where they were given a cursory examination by Doctor D.W. Hoodless,  He judged them to be those of a short, stocky European man. They were then put in storage, and during the Second World War, were lost.
Were the bones those of Amelia Earhart? Maybe. Amelia stood 5 feet six or seven inches, and when Richard Jantz, from the University of Tennessee, compared the ratio of the skeleton's humerus to the radius bones he got a figure of 0.76 - exactly that of Amelia, based on bare armed photos taken before the flight. Added to the apparent campsite found on the island, the remains of make-up and a pocket knife, and "credible" reports of 47 messages heard by professional radio men six hours after she went missing, the case is enticing, better than believable.  But unless the coral encrusted remains of her Electra reside 600 feet below the waves breaking along the reef surrounding Gardner Island, we will never know for certain. And maybe not even then.
There have been no humans living on Gardner Island since 1963, and after 1979 its name was changed to Nikumaroro, as the British Empire finally retreated from the Pacific. Its new native governors abandoned the atoll to its large land crabs and birds. And if they know what happened to Amelia Earhart, they are not talking, anymore than the creatures who survive in the dark compressed depths 12,000 feet under the southern Indian Ocean which are sharing the fate of the passengers and crew of  Malaysian flight 307.

- 30 -

Thursday, March 16, 2017


I shall begin illustrating my newly developed theory of the “Rule of the Retroactively-Inevitable” by stating an odd element of chemistry, which is that burning oil releases over twice as much energy as an equal weight of burning coal. Because of this, every admiral knew it was inevitable that eventually every battleship in the world must be powered by oil. But first you had to have oil to burn .And in the mid-19th century the only known large oil fields were in the United States, under Pennsylvania, and on the Pacific island of Borneo, in the far off Dutch East Indies. So, for half a century every war ship built for every navy in the world was powered by bulky, dirty inefficient coal. Then in 1901 a German professor named Kissling discovered a virtually unlimited “lake of petroleum” south of the Ottoman Turkish city of Kirkuk, and around Basra , at the head of the Gulf of Arabia. The professor had been searching in this god-forsaken dessert on orders from his boss, George von Siemens, managing director of Deutsche Bank.
Before he earned his “von”, George Siemens was just a promising Prussian civil servant. His skills in negotiating telegraph treaties had brought him the attention of Otto von Bismark (above), the man who in 1871 had  made Wilhelm Ludwig the first Kaiser of Germany. Otto helped set up the Deutsche Bank and made George it's first director, because to him it seemed inevitable that Germany would be surrounded by enemies; France to the east, Russia to the West, and everywhere the British Navy. But it also was inevitable that money could wiggle through this British blockade.
George von Siemens (above) knew very little about banking, but he was convinced it was inevitable that railroads were going to build a new world order. So,  much of the money that built the second and third American transcontinental railroads in the 1870's came from his Deutsche Bank, and George had a close up view of American capitalism in action. Americans, he wrote, “...are ruthless robbers...but they know how to think big.” So Director Siemens started looking for someplace to invest where the robbers thought smaller.
To Abdul Hamid II (above), 34th Sultan, it was inevitable that the natural resources in the Ottoman Empire ought to make it one of the strongest powers in Europe. But successful rebellions in Hungary, Bulgaria and Albania, and graft and waste in his government, had reduced Turkey to “The Sick man of Europe" - so deeply in debt that Abdul was forced by his creditors in London and Paris to turn over collection of the Empire's taxes (and its post office) to the “Ottoman Public Debt Administration”, run from Paris and London. So when Deutsche Bank offered Abdul a hundred million dollars to build a Railroad from Berlin to Bagdhad, Abdul eagerly accepted, even if George Siemens insisted it be built with “only German materials”, and gave Deutsche Bank mineral rights for 20 miles on either side of the railroad tracks. And that's why Professor Kissling was tapping rocks in the god-forsaken dessert outside of Kirkurk and in the marshes around Basra – to find some way of paying for the railroad. And it was Kissling's report, made public in 1905 to reassure British investors in Deutsche Bank, which started a barrel- chested big-thinker ego-maniac named Winston Churchill to thinking about the inevitable triumph of the British Empire.
Modern history remembers him as the British archetypal bulldog, but that came later. In turn-of-the-twentieth-century Britain he was a more of a Newt Gingrich – a bombastic clown extravagant in his language and his life style, which he financed by writing only slightly embellished books and newspaper accounts of his adventures. Then he went into politics, and in 1913 Winston (above) was named First Lord of the Admiralty, civilian head of the British navy. While everybody else was worried about the German Grand fleet sailing up the Thames, and German armies sweeping across France,Winston was convinced it was inevitable that the Berlin to Baghdad railroad would be the greatest threat to the British Empire.
His Admirals told Churchill the British Navy would need a speed of 25 knots to out maneuver a larger German fleet. Such a speed was possible only with oil powered warships. But in 1913, the British Empire controlled less than 2% of the world's oil reserves. Churchill wrote to his government masters, “We must become the owners or at any rate the controllers at the source of at least a proportion of the oil which we require.” The decision was made that the Foreign Office and the Bank of England were to acquire all the oil reserves that they could.
By now George von Seimens was no longer manager of Deutsche Bank, having passed away in October of 1901. And Abdul Hamid was no longer Sultan, having been deposed by the Young Turks under Enver Pasha in 1909. But so gentle was Abdul's captivity that he was allowed to keep all the land he had donated to himself, including that atop the oil fields around Kirkurk and Basra. And in 1913 there was incorporated a most unusual bank in Constantinople. It was called the National Bank of Turkey, but its money and board of directors were almost exclusively British, with the exception of a duel Ottoman Armenian-slash-British citizen, named Calouste Gulbenkian.
Half of the capital for the new bank was supplied by Deutsche Bank, now with out the guiding hand of George Seimens. The other half was put up by the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, which spurred by Professor Kissling's report, had stumbled upon oil reserves in present day Iran. But what the folks at Deutsche Bank did not know, was that the British government had secretly bought out the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, meaning the German bankers were now unwitting junior partners with the British Government.
The National Bank of Turkey help incorporate the Turkish Petroleum Company. Abdul Hamid put up his property rights, and Deutshe Bank put up their mineral rights, and the Bank of Turkey put up the money for the exploitation of the oil underneath Basra and Kirkurk. And the guy who drew up the paperwork was none other than Calouste Gulbenkian (above), who paid himself for his work by giving himself a 5% share in the new company. For a few brief moments it seemed inevitable that they all were going to get very, very rich. And then World War One broke out. The Berlin to Baghdad railroad had yet to reach Baghdad. Nobody had yet pumped a drop of oil out of the ground. And for the next four years artillery replaced lawyers as the big guns in oil negotiations, and the inevitable was put on hold
In 1915 the British army captured Basra, and in 1917 they captured Bagdhad, in 1918 they captured Kirkurk. And in 1919, at the peace conference in Paris, they sliced all of that off from Turkey, and labeled it a brand new country, which they named Iraq. Deutsche Bank was bankrupt. Abdul Hamid was dead. Turkish Petroleum Company became Iraq Petroleum Company, and was eventually divided up by various oil corporations, including Anglo-Persian. British corporations now controlled most of the world's oil supply outside of the United States. Until...who should suddenly show up but the Armenian/British lawyer, Calouste Gulbenkian. He now had a third citizenship, Portuguese – they had been neutral during the War - but he was still alive and he still had his 1914 contracts, and he insisted it was inevitable that he was going to be paid his 5%.
After ten years of haggling, in July of 1928, the world's oil companies finally caved in. They let Calouste Gulbenkian take a big red marker and draw a circle around all the oil fields he laid claim to. The “Red Line Agreemant” gave him, personally, 5% of the value of any oil pumped out from within that circle - forever. He was now “Mr. Five Percent”, one of the richest men in the world. When he died in 1955, his personal fortune was estimated at $840 million ($39 billion in today's money).
Over time Anglo-Persian Oil became Anglo-Iranian Oil, and then finally, British Petroleum, and then just “B.P.”, the largest oil company and the fourth largest and most profitable corporation in the world.. And as the Petroleum Century drew to a close, at about a quarter to ten on the morning of April 20, 2010, an oil rig leased by B.P., 48 miles off the coast of Louisiana, exploded. Eleven workers were killed. Before the well was capped almost 5 million barrels of toxic petroleum gushed into the Gulf of Mexico, killing everything which ingested it. B.P. has estimated its total cost for the clean up will be about $40 billion. And from the moment the admirals decided battleships would be powered by oil, this spill was inevitable.
- 30 -

Wednesday, March 15, 2017


I suspect the problem begins with the oft quoted but not well understood phrase, “pie are squared.” In the first place, it’s not. It is a fact that you cannot square a circle, and yet it is done everyday, out of sight for those of use who are math-impaired. This is so because  pi is the relationship between the length of the line forming a circle, divided by the distance across that same circle. And this relationship somehow always works out to be 3.141592653589793238…etcetera, etcetera, ad infinitas, add nfelicitous, and never ever repeating. This makes Pi an irrational number, which is confusing again because I find all numbers irrational, even on Pi day (3/15).
To find the area of a living room you simply ask a realtor, and then add  10%. But to find the area of a circle you must  measure the radius of a circle and then square it -  or to put it another way, the radius of the circle times the radius of the circle times the radius of the circle - three times.  In the shorthand of math-speak that becomes, A(rea)= pi Radius squared. This is true math-media.      
What this mystery formula really means is that you can never turn a circle into a square of the exact same size: close, but never exactly. And it doesn’t matter if it is a great big circle or an itty-bitty one. Pi is always 3.141 etcetera, etcetera, etcetera..
If you are a math freak this is obvious, while the rest of us have to be satisfied with accepting that Pi is an irrational number and live with it. But I ask you, what is the value of knowing pi? 
I had a fourth grade teacher who was so obsessed with having her students memorize the value of Pi to twenty decimal places that she had us memorize the following poem: “Sir, I send a rhyme excelling, In sacred truth and rigid spelling, Numerical sprites elucidate, For me the lexicon’s full weight”. Each of the 20 words of that poem has the number of letters required to read out the first twenty digits of pi, in order. . I had to memorized that poem again in my thirties because as a ten year old I couldn’t spell the word Nantucket, and as a sixty year old I rely upon a spell checker to detail any word long enough to rhyme with  “elucidate”. So this poem was as much a mystery to me then as the number Pi remained for years.
But I am older now and I have grown so used to making mistakes in public that I hardly notice the embarrassment anymore. So I openly admit that I still find pi a puzzle. Besides, every time I make a mistake, I learn something new. Things my mistakes have taught me so far include, never turn down a chance to use the bathroom, never loan money to attractive women, never invest in Nigerian lottery tickets, never give out my social security number over the net, and never question the value of pi. But, why pi?
Legend has it that the great Greek mathematician Archimedes of Syracuse was struggling over the solution to pi when a Roman soldier blundered into his garden. The old man supposedly snapped, “Don’t touch my circles!”, whereupon the chastised legionary pulled his Gladius and separated Archimedes’ head from his face. I suppose that if Archimedes had been sitting in his bathtub, as he allegedly was when he discovered that displaced water could be used to measure density (Eureka!), something else might have been separated. But, suffice it to say that before computers, finding pi was a great big pain in the Archimedes. He managed to figure out that pi was somewhere between 3 10/71 and 3 1/7. He might have done better if he had invented the decimal point, first. But...
About the year 480 CE the Chinese mathematician Zu Chongzhi figured out that pi was a little more than 3.1415926 and a little less than 3.1415927. After that the decimal point zealots took over. The German mathematician and fencing instructor Ludolf van Ceulen worked out pi to 35 decimal places. And in 1873 the amateur geek, William Shanks, worked it out to 707 decimal places. But William made one tiny little mistake in the 528th number and that threw everything else off. But it was such a good try that nobody noticed his screw up until 1944. Today computers have figured pi out to one trillion digits to the right of the decimal point and still no repeatable pattern has been detected, and still it never reaches zero. It is still a little bit less than 3.15 and a little bit more than 3.14. All that has changed is the definition of “a little bit”. It keeps getting smaller and smaller -  but it will never be zero.
But what does that mean? What does Pi mean, beyond its face value? Well, it turns you can find it in the   curve of the double helix of a DNA molecule, the chemical code of all living plants, animals and bacteria, and the behavior of light coming from distant galaxies, or out sun. Einstein himself realized that if you want to describe why and how a river "meanders"  to the sea, you need to use Pi , because the actual length of a stream, with twists and bends is usually between 1.3 and 1.4 times the straight line distance - called the "meander ratio".  All the geologists have to do is plug in the variables for soil type, and angle of slope and latitude and drawing rivers on a map becomes predictable. Pi is why why so many rivers look the same when seen from space or on a map. Pi is what all rivers have in common with DNA. And airplane wings. And sewer pipes. And eye balls, human and otherwise. 
Pi reveals the underlying structure of the universe, the lines of force - magnetic,  gravity, chemical or electrical.  Pi is like a master key, that with a little jiggling, can be made to open just about any door. The mere fact that such a key exists, tells you that everything we can see, hear and feel is connected to everything else, even the stuff we can't see. Pi tells you the chaos inside an exploding super nova is governed by the same laws that control the budding of a flower. It is the mathematical proof that there is a logic to the entire universe, and that logic is 3.141592653589793238...etcetera, etcetera.        
Thus pi is the “admirable number” according to the devilish little Polish poetess Wislawa Szmborska. While being infinitely long it includes “…my phone number, your shirt size, the year nineteen hundred and seventy-three, sixth floor number of inhabitants, sixty-five cents, hip measurement, two fingers, a charade and a code, in which we find how blithe the trostle sings!” (…and no, I have no idea what or who the hell a trostle is or what makes it blithe or unblithe. Do you?)
Daniel Rockmore, in the pages of "The Chronicle of High Education" for 12 March 1999, wrote that Pi was "Foreign, unpredictable, otherworldly, yet as common as a circle...it's easy to find, but hard to know. Among mathematicians there still rages a fierce, unsettled debate about whether pi is a "normal" number--that is, whether each of the digits 0 through 9 each occur on average one-tenth of the time in the never-ending decimal expansion of pi...making...Pis...a veritable poster number for the fashion world's ambiguous and androgynous advertising campaigns."  And you thought mathematics had no sex appeal  Why, if Pi was plain old 3 or dull old 4, there would be no sex. Sex is made possible by being 3.14159265358979.... etceteraetcetera.. And it cannot be and will not be controlled. And certainly not owned.
A physician and a crackpot amateur mathematician from Solitude, Indiana named Dr. Edwin J. Goodwin thought that he had “solved” pi to the last digit - and none of this irrational numerical horse feathers for him!  He decided to make Pi his own personal private property by copyrighting it.  But in order to profit from his discovery (you know how wealthy the Pythagoras estate is) Dr. Goodwin needed a legal endorsement. And rather than subject his brainchild to the vagaries of the copyright peer review, the good doctor instead offered his theory as an accomplished fact to the local politicians. The proposal, Indiana House Bill 246, “…an act introducing a new mathematical truth and offered…to be used only by the State of Indiana free of cost…provided it is accepted and adopted by the official action of the Legislature…”. this insanity actually made it through the Committee on Canals and Swamps (Perfect place for it!) in record time, and was passed by the full Indiana house on 5 February, 1897, by a vote of 67 to 0.  Who says politicians don't spend time on important issues?
Unfortunately, in the Indiana Senate some wiseacre showed the bill to a visiting Purdue party- pooper, Professor of Mathematics C.A. Waldo. And now we at last know where Waldo was, at least in 1897. The lawmaker asked if the professor would like the honor of meeting the amazing Dr. Goodwin, and Professor Waldo replied that he already knew all the lunatics he cared to know, thank you very much. And with that comment Dr. Goodwin’s brief bubble of fame was burst. On 12 February, 1897 any further vote on the bill to copywrite the perfect definitive solution to Pi was postponed indefinitely.  Hoosier lunatics have since moved on to more productive fields.
It was not a victory for logic so much as an avoidance of a victory for ignorance, which is pretty much the same thing that happened in Tennessee about 30 years later when they tried to make evolution illegal. Don't tell the whales. They'll have to go back to being dogs. 
Still pi remains one of the most popular mathematical equations, if mostly poorly appreciated by those of us who aren’t trying to generate a random number or navigate a jet plane across the North Pole, or predict the next stock market bubble, or launch a satellite, run a radio station, process an X-ray or a Cat-scan, drive a submarine, drill for oil, purify gold or etcetera, etcetera, ad infinitas, add infelicity.
Just trust me, and always trust pi. It lifts your spirit, gives you a sense of security and keeps your circles on the square. To share it just try singing..."Pi, Pi, Me oh my, Nothing tastes sweet, wet, salty and dry, all at once, ...oh my, I love pi!
- 30 -

Blog Archive