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July 31, 2003
Reformed Egyptian, revised version
Posted by Teresa at 11:23 PM *

It is with grave delight that I inform you that an Eritrean Christian visionary named Embaye Melekin has swallowed the Book of Mormon whole, and after duly digesting and considering the matter has received a revelation:

The Book of Mormon or the Abyssinian Book, was translated from its original Sabean scripts by a white prophet named, Joseph Smith, who founded the Mormon Church or, as it is called today, Church of the Latter-Day Saints (LDS). As I unravel the true version of the book, it shall be seen later, that the Prophet Joseph Smith was not expected to know the true meaning of the records of our forefathers he translated. As a result, the records of our forefathers prophesied that he, Joseph Smith, and his church, shall follow the doctrines and distortions of the “Abominable Church” and shall fail to realize the true meaning of the book he was prophesied to interpret. Instead, I, Embaye Melekin, was chosen to do so, and possess the true knowledge and spirit, and to bring the book to its authentic owners, the Eritrean and African people in general.
I suspect Melekin’s reading owes a lot to 1 Nephi 1:2, the second verse in the BoM, where Nephi says:
Yea, I make a record in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians.
To Embaye Melekin, the import of this statement is clear: Nephi (or “Nebyi”) must have been writing in Sabaean. And I must admit, Sabaean does sort of fit the description. Thus is borne out yet again the truth of the central revelation brought forth in this dispensation by Plan Ten from Outer Space: “Just because it’s made up, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.” But back to Melekin’s own revelation:
In light of the above explanations, one could understand why the Prophet Joseph Smith described the two major factions that evolved from Leyi’s children, as whites and blacks. According to his limited understanding, he, Joseph Smith, concluded that the whites were the Europeans and the blacks referred to in the Book of Mormon, he considered to be the Native American Indians. According to his understandings, the whites that were cursed by the Almighty God, became darker and thus, the relatively darker complexions of the Native American Indians. …Joseph Smith couldn’t have remotely imagined, at that time, that the Negro slaves could be the authentic owners of the Holy Book he was translating. In all honesty, no one could blame him for not thinking so. Besides, the Lord did not intend him to link the Book of Mormon to the African people. Indeed, and according to the prophecies documented in the records of our forefathers, one of the offspring of the African people was delegated to reveal the true meaning of the book to its true owners, the Africans themselves. The records of our forefathers were prophesied to return to us, after they were interpreted and misunderstood by the white people (Gentiles), and through the revelation of God, and by one of our offsprings. I am therefore, honored by the Creator of heaven and earth and His blessed Son, Jesus Christ, to accomplish the prophesied task. I am gifted to reveal the true meaning of the records of our forefathers, and to make it plain and simple for the understanding of the remnants of the house of Israel, the Africans and our descendants, throughout the world. …
Which is exactly what he has done, or is trying to do. For example, here’s his version of the Book of Ether, which has some interesting departures from the original.

Melekin is a strong misprizer and reshaper. He grabs the whole story, re-imagines it to suit his own purposes, wrenches it into a new shape, and overwrites it with his own meanings and interpretations. That is to say: as a creator, he’s more like Joseph Smith than anyone the LDS church has ever recognized as one of Joseph’s legitimate successors. (via )

July 26, 2003
Open thread 2
Posted by Teresa at 09:26 AM *

This is an improvised answer to the problem of Particles comments. It’s also something to play with while I’m semi-away.

July 24, 2003
Dueling icons
Posted by Teresa at 12:00 AM *

For the last decade or so we’ve been going through a renaissance in traditional religious art. I don’t mean stuff like Matthew Brooks’ “Art for the Catholic Restoration,” lively though it is; I mean Byzantine-style icons.

One of the landmark projects is Mark Dukes’ “Dancing Saints,” a work in progress at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco. It’s spectacular. And like so much of the new iconographic painting, it takes a very broad view of what constitutes saintliness.

The same can be said of Robert Lentz, one of the central figures in this artistic revival. He uses traditional techniques, and some of his icons couldn’t possibly be more traditional; his Our Lady of Korsun, for example. Others are transformational, re-envisioning his subjects, as in the case of his icons of SS. Catherine of Siena, Christopher, John of the Cross, Julian of Norwich, Anthony of Padua, Mary Magdalene, and Perpetua and Felicity.

He doesn’t stop there. Acting on his own promptings (or the Holy Spirit’s; not my call), he’s painted icons of such figures asa Albert Einstein, Cesar Chavez, Black Elk, Dorothy Day, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Harvey Milk, J.R.R. Tolkien, Jalal Ud-din Rumi, John Donne, Johann Sebastian Bach, Martin Luther King, Mohandas Gandhi, Fr. Mychal Judge, Mother Jones, and Steven Biko.

I should mention somewhere along the line that the Eastern Orthodox Church has a lively icon-painting scene going. It helps that they’ve never stopped doing it.

Fr. William McNichols is another of the major new iconographers. I’m particularly fond of one of his paintings, only partly because I cracked up the minute I first saw it. I’m not sure I can properly explain this. It’s like the Mormon joke about why are crows black (answer: they refused to help the seagulls): too much explanation for a joke that should arrive as quickly and noiselessly as heat lightning.

The painting is a Dormition of the Mother of God, and was commissioned by the Jesuit magazine America.

No. Now that I think about it, I’m sure I can’t adequately explain that. Nevertheless:

The Dormition of the Mother of God, a.k.a. the Dormition of the Virgin, informally “a Dormition”, is another traditional subject. Basically, it’s the deathbed scene of the elderly Virgin Mary. Iconographers have been been painting this one for a very long time.

Existing alongside this tradition—sometimes in the same work of art—has been the also-venerable tradition of the Assumption, which instead of depicting Mary dying, shows her being swooshed straight up into Heaven. (Jesus ascended, Mary was assumed. It’s the difference between going there under your own power and being taken in tow.) Assumptions are fun to paint, so there’ve been so many them: Perugino, Raphael, Titian, Rubens, Correggio, Poussin, Murillo—for a while there, everybody did an Assumption.

What could possibly be funny about all this? Okay. Dogma didn’t come down on the side of the Assumption until 1950, when the Assumption (as opposed to the Dormition) was made part of the same package deal as the Immaculate Conception. And how was this arrived at? The Pope said so. It’s one of the only times the Pope’s ever exercised his famous ability to speak ex cathedra and have what he says be accepted as infallible. In theory, at any rate. As one pro-Assumption site rather bluntly put it,
It is not Mary that is the point of contention. It is about a crisis of authority and where that authority rests in relation to revealed truth.
So, on the one hand, you could interpret Fr. McNichols’ Dormition as expressing a certain amount of doubt about that infallibility business. And then again, on the other hand, it could just be a very nice painting.

July 23, 2003
Inscrutable cartoon
Posted by Teresa at 06:57 PM *

Will someone who speaks French please tell me what this is about?

We don’t mind people reading, as long as they aren’t blatant about it
Posted by Teresa at 06:34 PM *

From Creative Loafing, a disturbing story about Marc Schultz, an ordinary guy who had the FBI show up and start questioning him on account of something someone saw him reading in a Starbuck’s. This wasn’t terrorist activity. It wasn’t sedition. He was just reading an article while he drank his coffee:

I’m nervous now, wondering how I must look: average, mid-20s, unassuming retail employee. What could I have possibly been carrying?

Trippi’s partner speaks up: “Any reading material? Papers?” I don’t think so. Then Trippi decides to level with me: “I’ll tell you what, Marc. Someone in the shop that day saw you reading something, and thought it looked suspicious enough to call us about. So that’s why we’re here, just checking it out. Like I said, there’s no problem. We’d just like to get to the bottom of this. Now if we can’t, then you may have a problem. And you don’t want that.”

You don’t want that? Have I just been threatened by the FBI? Confusion and a light dusting of panic conspire to keep me speechless. Was I reading something that morning? Something that would constitute a problem?

The partner speaks up again: “Maybe a printout of some kind?”

Then it occurs to me: I was reading. It was an article my dad had printed off the Web. I remember carrying it into Caribou with me, reading it in line, and then while stirring cream into my coffee. I remember bringing it with me to the store, finishing it before we opened. I can’t remember what the article was about, but I’m sure it was some kind of left-wing editorial, the kind that never fails to incite me to anger and despair over the state of the country.

I tell them all this, but they want specifics: the title of the article, the author, some kind of synopsis, but I can’t help them — I read so much of this stuff.
I have to wonder what kind of idiot thinks people who read left-wing articles are automatically suspect, and phoned in the tip to the FBI. Here’s the offending article.

I also have to wonder what the bleep the FBI thought they were doing. It didn’t matter what Schultz was reading. Unless it’s grossly offensive, he has the right to read it.

These are the guys who’re supposed to be enforcing our laws? (via Linnea Anglemark)

Dueling animation
Posted by Teresa at 10:28 AM *

All hail the advent of the computer and the internet, which has put the power to do weird shit into the hands of so many. (via Linnea Anglemark)

July 22, 2003
Bits of Gossip by Rebecca Harding Davis
Posted by Teresa at 02:47 PM *

Now, I forget just what it was I was looking for when I stumbled across Rebecca Harding Davis’s Bits of Gossip, published by Houghton Mifflin in 1904 and now available online. At the time, I didn’t know anything about her. All I knew was that her style was remarkably readable, and that I liked her approach:

It always has seemed to me that each human being, before going out into the silence, should leave behind him, not the story of his own life, but of the time in which he lived, - as he saw it, - its creed, its purpose, its queer habits, and the work which it did or left undone in the world.

Taken singly, these accounts might be weak and trivial, but together, they would make history live and breathe. Think what flesh and color the diaries of an English tailor and an Italian vagabond have given to their times!

Some such vague consideration as this has made me collect these scattered remembrances of my own generation, and of some of the men and women in it whom I have known.
She speaks modestly, but her lifetime, 1831 to 1910, spanned a period of astonishing change, and she saw some interesting bits of it at first hand. She grew up in Wheeling, (not yet West) Virginia, when it was still settling into being settled:
The world that we lived in when I was a child would seem silent and empty to this generation. There were no railways in it, no automobiles or trolleys, no telegraphs, no sky-scraping houses. Not a single man in the country was the possessor of huge accumulations of money such as are so common now. There was not, from sea to sea, a trust or a labor union. Even the names of those things had not yet been invented.

The village in Virginia which was our home consisted of two sleepy streets lined with Lombardy poplars, creeping between a slow-moving river and silent, brooding hills. Important news from the world outside was brought to us when necessary by a man on a galloping horse.

But such haste seldom was thought necessary. Nobody was in a hurry to hear the news. Nobody was in a hurry to do anything, least of all to work or to make money. It mattered little then whether you had money or not. If you were born into a good family, and were “converted,” you were considered safe for this world and the next.

Incomes were all small alike. Indeed, among gentlefolk it was considered vulgar to talk of money at all - either to boast that you had it, or to complain of your lack of it. This was a peculiar trait of the times, and, I suspect, grew out of one dogma of the religious training which then was universal. Every child was taught from his cradle that money was Mammon, the chief agent of the flesh and the devil. As he grew up it was his duty as a Christian and a gentleman to appear to despise filthy lucre, whatever his secret opinion of it might be.

Besides, the country was so new, so raw, that there were few uses for wealth. You must remember that in the early thirties Philadelphia, New York, and Boston were in the same condition as to population, wealth, and habits of life as the fourth-rate country town of to-day. Richmond and St. Louis boasted loudly of their eight thousand inhabitants. San Francisco was a bear den, and Chicago a hamlet. The majority of Americans, both men and women, were then busy with farming or other manual labor, and the so-called gentry had no operas, no art galleries, no yearly trips to Europe to drain their thin incomes.

Between the small towns scattered over the continent stretched the wilderness, broken here and there by the farms of squatters. Through this wilderness the rivers, canals, and one solitary road carried travelers and trade.

Our village was built on the Ohio River, and was a halting place on this great national road, then the only avenue of traffic between the South and the North. Every morning two stage-coaches with prancing horses and shrill horns dashed down the sleeping streets to the wharf, full of passengers from the East, who hurried on board the steamboats bound for St. Louis or New Orleans. Huge vans often passed, laden with merchandise for the plantations or with bales of cotton for the Northern mills. Now and then a white-topped Conestoga wagon drawn by eight horses, each carrying a chime of bells, came through the streets, bearing an emigrant family to the West. The mother and children peeped out of the high front, and the father, carrying a gun, walked with his dog. These emigrants often were from Norway or Poland or Germany, and wore their national costumes, as European peasants still did then. They put on their velvet jackets and high caps when they came near the town, and went about begging, in order to save the little hoard of money which they had brought with them until they reached “the Ohio,” as the whole West was then vaguely called.

These wagons were full of romance to us children. They came up with these strange people out of far-off lands of mystery, and took them into the wilderness, full of raging bears and panthers and painted warriors, all to be fought in turn. We used to look after the children peeping out at us with bitter envy; for, naturally, as we never left home, the world outside of our encircling hills was a vast secret to us. Boys and girls now usually rush in the course of every year through a dozen states, to the mountains or the seacoast. Most of them have been to Europe. Every morning before breakfast they can read what happened yesterday in Korea or South Africa.

But with us, after a presidential election, a month often passed before the man on a galloping horse brought us the name of the successful candidate. …

Certain things were close and real to us then, as children, which to boys and girls now are misty legends. What do they care for the Revolution or the Indian wars?

But then, the smoke of the battles of Monmouth and Yorktown was still in the air. The old Indian forts were still standing in the streets. It was part of your religion to hate the British. It was your own grandfather who, when he was ten years old, had gone into the swamp, killed the huge beast that had threatened the settlement, and so won the proud title of Panther Jim. He showed you the very sword which he had carried at Valley Forge. It was your own grandmother who had danced with Lafayette, and who hinted that “Lady Washington” had an ugly habit of loudly scolding her husband and of boxing Nelly Custis’s ears, which was hardly befitting a gentlewoman.

Another odd peculiarity of that time, which I never have seen noticed, was our familiarity with the heathen gods and goddesses. If you talked of war you said Mars, of a beautiful woman you called her Venus; you accused your rhyming neighbor of “courting the Nine.” Sermons, letters, and ordinary talk were larded with scraps of Latin and Greek, which now would be laughed at. The reason is plain. Then, the educated boy and girl, first of all, must study the classics. Science, geography, even the history of their own people, were but secondary matters. Jupiter, Juno, and Ce6sar still held the stage. The rest of the world as yet were behind the curtain. …

The old house had its historic points, too. There were the big wooden chairs on which the three Indian chiefs had sat when they stopped to see my father on their way to Washington. These warriors were in state dress, their faces painted in scarlet streaks; they wore crowns of eagle feathers and robes embroidered with beads and quills. They were live horrors to remember for years, and to shiver over when you were in bed and the candles were out and you pulled the clothes over your head.

She urged us to come and welcome them and not to be outdone in good-breeding by savages. So we went into the room and sat on a row of chairs, stiff with terror when they laughed and grunted “papoose.” One of us even carried a plate of our own jumbles to them, and the big warrior dumped cakes, plate and all, into the corner of his robe and carried them away. When they were going they turned on the threshold and the great chief made a farewell speech. The meaning of that oration always remained a family mystery. Had he pronounced a curse or a blessing on us? Even at this late day I should really like to know what he did say.
By the 1860s she was a published writer with a growing reputation. Naturally, she went to New England to hang out with the Boston and Concord Brahmins and Transcendentalists, staying at the home of her great friend Nathaniel Hawthorne. She met the lot of them: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, the Alcotts pe8re et fille:
I wish I could summon these memorable ghosts before you as I saw them then and afterward. To the eyes of an observer, belonging to the commonplace world, they did not appear precisely as they do in the portraits drawn of them for posterity by their companions, the other Areopagites, who walked and talked with them apart - always apart from humanity.

That was the first peculiarity which struck an outsider in Emerson, Hawthorne, and the other members of the “Atlantic” coterie; that while they thought they were guiding the real world, they stood quite outside of it, and never would see it as it was.

For instance, during the Civil War, they had much to say of it, and all used the same strained high note of exaltation. It was to them “only the shining track,” as Lowell calls it, where
“… heroes mustered in a gleaming row, Beautiful evermore, and with the rays
Of morn on their white shields of expectation.”
These heroes were their bravest and their best, gone to die for the slave or for their country. They were “the army” to them.

I remember listening during one long summer morning to Louisa Alcott’s father as he chanted pe6ans to the war, the “armed angel which was wakening the nation to a lofty life unknown before.”

We were in the little parlor parlor of the Wayside, Mr. Hawthorne’s house in Concord. Mr. Alcott stood in front of the fireplace, his long gray hair streaming over his collar, his pale eyes turning quickly from one listener to another to hold them quiet, his hands waving to keep time with the orotund sentences which had a stale, familiar ring as if often repeated before. Mr. Emerson stood listening, his head sunk on his breast, with profound submissive attention, but Hawthorne sat astride of a chair, his arms folded on the back, his chin dropped on them, and his laughing, sagacious eyes watching us, full of mockery.

I had just come up from the border where I had seen the actual war; the filthy spewings of it; the political jobbery in Union and Confederate camps; the malignant personal hatreds wearing patriotic masks, and glutted by burning homes and outraged women; the chances in it, well improved on both sides, for brutish men to grow more brutish, and for honorable gentlemen to degenerate into thieves and sots. War may be an armed angel with a mission, but she has the personal habits of the slums. This would-be seer who was talking of it, and the real seer who listened, knew no more of war as it was, than I had done in my cherry-tree when I dreamed of bannered legions of crusaders debouching in the misty fields.

Mr. Hawthorne at last gathered himself up lazily to his feet, and said quietly: “We cannot see that thing at so long a range. Let us go to dinner,” and Mr. Alcott suddenly checked the droning flow of his prophecy and quickly led the way to the dining-room.

Early that morning when his lank, gray figure had first appeared at the gate, Mr. Hawthorne said: “Here comes the Sage of Concord. He is anxious to know what kind of human beings come up from the back hills in Virginia. Now I will tell you,” his eyes gleaming with fun, “what he will talk to you about. Pears. Yes. You may begin at Plato or the day’s news, and he will come around to pears. He is now convinced that a vegetable diet affects both the body and soul, and that pears exercise a more direct and ennobling influence on us than any other vegetable or fruit. Wait. You’ll hear presently.”

When we went in to dinner, therefore, I was surprised to see the sage eat heartily of the fine sirloin of beef set before us. But with the dessert he began to advocate a vegetable diet and at last announced the spiritual influence of pears, to the great delight of his host, who laughed like a boy and was humored like one by the gentle old man.

Whether Alcott, Emerson, and their disciples discussed pears or the war, their views gave you the same sense of unreality, of having been taken, as Hawthorne said, at too long a range. You heard much sound philosophy and many sublime guesses at the eternal verities; in fact, never were the eternal verities so dissected and pawed over and turned inside out as they were about that time, in Boston, by Margaret Fuller and her successors. But the discussion left you with a vague, uneasy sense that something was lacking, some back-bone of fact. Their theories were like beautiful bubbles blown from a child’s pipe, floating overhead, with queer reflections on them of sky and earth and human beings, all in a glow of fairy color and all a little distorted.

Mr. Alcott once showed me an arbor which he had built with great pains and skill for Mr. Emerson to “do his thinking in.” It was made of unbarked saplings and boughs, a tiny round temple, two-storied, with chambers in which were seats, a desk, etc., all very artistic and complete, except that he had forgotten to make any door. You could look at it and admire it, but nobody could go in or use it. It seemed to me a fitting symbol for this guild of prophets and their scheme of life.
Check it out. There’s lots more like that. If she weren’t a woman who’d gone on to write about feminism and labor issues, I’d be astonished that such a charming and readable book had fallen into obscurity.

July 21, 2003
Aaaaaaaaargh.
Posted by Teresa at 10:27 PM *

Sometime within the last half-hour or so, my rearmost top right molar appears to have sheared off entirely, not far above the gumline. So far it doesn’t hurt.

I have nightmares about stuff like this.

If I ever win the lottery, first thing I’m going to do is get my teeth fixed, all of them. It’ll be grand, just like living in a first-world country.

Particulate matter
Posted by Teresa at 02:16 PM *

I’ve been having fun with Particles, a micro-weblog whose first ten entries automatically show up as a list in the top left-hand corner of Making Light. (You can see the whole thing by clicking on MORE at the bottom of the list.) I’m not a fast writer, but I tend to find a lot of odd links, so turning the excess into one-liners seems like a reasonable compromise.

Also, frankly, over the years I’ve accumulated bookmarks like some dotty old ladies accumulate cats. I’m forever trying to sort them out rationally, but then I get distracted trying to figure out why I bookmarked some unlikely page … and I absentmindedly click on an interesting-looking link … and another … and when I finally emerge from the infowooze some long time later, not only have the bookmarks not been sorted and culled, but I’ve added several more to the heap.

I would never want the world to be less interesting. The fault is entirely my own.

Anyway, I’m finding that for some reason, going through my vast tidal swamp of bookmarks with an eye toward turning them into Particles links seems to keep me a bit more on track. What I don’t know is whether anyone else is finding them amusing. One has these moments of wondering whether they all just add up to an embarrassingly accurate map of one’s intellect and sensibilities. Elizabethan names for colors: now there’s a real thigh-slapper, you betcha …

July 17, 2003
The best cloisonne pins in the world…
Posted by Teresa at 03:46 PM *

…come from Wm. Spear Design. I first encountered them when my in-laws gave me the Write hard, die free pin. Their designs are beautiful, their subjects are wildly various, and they’re biased toward things attractive to me and people like me. (Test case: From the next room, I just heard Patrick say “Wow! They’ve got Thelonious Monk”)

Taking these images as single examples drawn from larger categories, you can get Blackbeard’s flag, a murre egg, a synapse, a fireplug, a bulldog, a kitchen mixer, an error message, a snowy owl, a great horned owl, a broken bone (and an x-ray), a Tlingit mask, a newspaper hat, a pod of belugas, the Hubble Space Telescope, a book of matches, a spectator pump, Thelonious Monk, strelitzia, ponderosa, prickly pear, silicon, kabuki, a mammoth, a comet, a dirigible, an octopus, a voltage meter, a flying carpet, the world as a bowling ball, Robert Burns, ruby slippers, asst’d prehistoric critters, a Mountie, a robot, a runaway mummy, a dark angel, a Lockheed P-38, a mole, a scaredy cat, a tree frog, a Hampshire pig, a luna moth, Ursa Major, the Tsongass National Forest, a dozen different vegetables, a hypodermic, an amanita, a flying saucer, a rubber duckie, the flag of Oz, and an elegant midnight coelocanth.

Many of them are also available as zipper pulls, as though you needed any more incentive.

July 16, 2003
When did they know?
Posted by Teresa at 09:01 PM *

At what point did the Bush administration know there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? When Rumsfeld started cutting troop allocations from the war plan. The administration may have known earlier, but they surely knew by then.

Cutting the troop allocations was crazy enough if Rumsfeld assumed US troops would be going up against conventional weapons; but even he wouldn’t have done that if he honestly thought they’d face WMDs.

Tool-making crows
Posted by Teresa at 01:00 AM *

Not a new story, but it’s haunted me since it came out last year in Science Magazine online:

In the Brevia section of the 9 August 2002 issue of Science, Weir et al. report a remarkable observation: The toolmaking behavior of New Caledonian crows. In the experiments, a captive female crow, confronted with a task that required a curved tool (retrieving a food-containing bucket from a vertical pipe), spontaneously bent a piece of straight wire into a hooked shape—and then repeated the behavior in nine out of ten subsequent trials. Though these crows are known to employ tools in the wild using natural materials, this bird had no prior training with the use of pliant materials such as wire—a fact that makes its apparently spontaneous, highly specific problem-solving all the more interesting, and raises intriguing questions about the evolutionary preconditions for complex cognition. The crow’s behavior was captured on an unusual video clip. …
The first time I saw the movie, it gave me goosebumps. The food’s in a little metal bucket with a handle, down at the bottom of a glass tube. The crow has only the piece of wire to work with.

At first it stabs and prods at the food with the unbent wire. Then, when it decides that that approach isn’t going to work, it bends the wire—briskly, expertly, without fumbling or hesitation or false starts—to just the right length and angle needed to fish the bucket out of the tube. It then proceeds to fish up the bucket—again, without fumbling or hesitation. That bird knows exactly what it’s doing. I know a lot of humans who wouldn’t have done any better.

So the movie’s cool. But of all animals, why a New Caledonian crow? That thing has a brain the size of a fava bean.

July 14, 2003
The Mystery of the Ghost Writer
Posted by Teresa at 08:45 PM *

A parody of modern literary politics, and of the Hardy Boys mysteries, from the archives of National Lampoon magazine. It was written back in that brief glorious period when the writers didn’t give a damn whether you caught the joke. It’s a completely bleeping glorious piece of work. The precise gradation of saidbookisms is worth the price of admission all by itself.

July 12, 2003
A report on the events of the Fourth of July
Posted by Teresa at 10:00 AM *

On the Fourth of July you can go join the gathering on the FDR (the highway up the east side of Manhattan), closed to vehicular traffic for the occasion so that zillions of New Yorkers can pack themselves onto it to watch fireworks being set off from a barge in the East River. Or, new this year, you can gather at South Street Seaport, or on the Brooklyn Heights promenade, or (I suppose) on the Brooklyn Bridge, to watch an identical synchronized fireworks extravaganza go up from a barge moored in the mouth of the East River. Or you can watch the lesser but still very pretty fireworks show in Newark. Or you can bootleg a bunch of illegal fountains and rockets and Roman candles into the city, and stage your own show.

Alternately, you can sit on your rooftop in Brooklyn and watch all of them at once.

(One of these years I’m going to go back to being able to go up there without thinking how nice it is that I don’t have a major act of terrorism happening in my direct line of sight. In the meantime, it’s still nice.)

The fire escape is rickety and the ladder connecting the top fire escape landing with the roof proper is downright scary. Fortunately, it was too dark to see what we were doing, so we had less to be scared of. Once we were up there I perched on the old bricked-up chimney, while Patrick half-knelt on a bit of wall next to me. There was a nice breeze and a newish crescent moon.

As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I started picking out little groups of my neighbors on other nearby rooftops. Some of them had fireworks. Someone on the south side of President or the north side of Carroll had a supply of pretty little bottle rockets. A large happy rooftop gathering on Garfield was setting off considerably more ambitious fireworks, bursts and sprays and fountains and candles, some of which came almost uncomfortably close to our own rooftop perch. And down on Third Avenue, someone had laid in a substantial evening’s program of even bigger stuff, some of it quite impressive.

(Partway through the main East River shows, the privately sponsored show on Third Avenue became sufficiently obtrusive to bring a NYPD helicopter and its searchlight down from Greenpoint or Williamsburg to inspect our immediate area. The guys down on Third had just lit off some kind of long-lasting artillery barrage number when it started to become evident that that swiftly-expanding helicopter-dot was heading straight for us. The barrage went on and on, sending up green and gold MIRVing starbursts; and when I think of all the fountain-effect fireworks I’ve seen that were played out in just a few seconds, I have to say that that one really gave the Third Avenue guys their money’s worth. Trouble was, the NYPD helicopter was coming on very fast. The barrage finished up, and its corpse was presumably dragged out of sight, with only seconds to spare before the searchlight found the sidewalk square where it had stood.

The helicopter flew away. After a few minutes the fireworks cautiously recommenced all around us; and when the helicopter failed to return, they returned to their former exuberant level.)

The big display out in New Jersey started first, and for a while we wondered whether it might be the promised show at the mouth of the East River, and whether the matching show further north was somehow not in our line of sight. Then the real East River shows started up, both of them quite visible, though the northern one was color-shifted by the intervening haze, and I wondered how I could ever have doubted. This was the real NYC Fourth of July thing: spectacular, unstinting, in an artfully varied program that mixed show-offy new technical effects with old classics done perfectly, and all of it done on a perfectly enormous scale.

Thank you, Macy’s.

Colors: Normal fireworks red. Saturated geranium red. Normal fireworks green. An extra-bright yellow-green. Blue. A bluer blue that didn’t carry well over long distances but was gorgeous up close. Hot violet-pink. Lime-tinted gold. Florida OJ yellow-gold. The usual whites and golds for the “giant chrysanthemums and trailing sparks” part of the show. And of course, lots of color-change tricks that swapped off one of these for another.

They had some really great spherical bursts in what looked like pale gold with pale green and peach-pink, with some sort of fast subtle color changes going on, but it’s possible I was seeing colors that weren’t chemically present. They were magnificent.

Shapes: globes, globes inside of globes, globes equatorially divided into two colors, Saturn-ringed planets, rings, five-pointed stars, roundish but recognizable American flags, bilaterally symmetrical bursts like bowtie pasta, smiley faces, and sawtooth-edged annular bursts of cloudy gold sparks with rings of bright colored stars inside.

What I didn’t see: those really great rockets that release a bunch of smaller bursts that suddenly turn into weird corkscrews and spirals. Too bad. I like those a lot.

They’ve added an excruciatingly cool new effect to the white-and-gold segment, which is always my favorite part of the show anyway. That’s when they do the best giant gold chrysanthemums, sometimes with sharply-defined branching or MIRVing inner bursts, and fireworks that rain down in long trailing lines of falling gold sparks like willow branches, and that weird one that forms a sort of filigreed net of superbright white stars that all drift downward together. Anyway, this new one, which is simply enormous, explodes into a huge starfield made of a great many separate, evenly spaced, almost perfectly round balls of gold sparks. It looked sort of like a cross between a dandelion puffball and the old MacPaint spraypaint effect. It also looked sort of like the last picture on this page, but I’m not sure.

They had a couple of other effects that really impressed me. One was a rocket that went up in a column of gold sparks and exploded into a rather small burst of green stars. Then, moments later, a huge hollow globe of stars, a patchwork of about five different colors, would briefly flare into existence around the now-fading center. And they had some of those fireworks I don’t understand, where there’s a starburst, only instead of exploding outward in a ball or spray, or falling down in clouds of sparkles, the individual stars fly off slowly and erratically in all directions, like a swarm of fireflies. I wish I knew how they did that.

Anyway, it was a well-made show, the kind where you never have to wonder whether the combination you just saw was the grand finale, and there are no big gaps that make you think prematurely that it’s over. As it built toward a climax, the rooftop party over on Garfield started singing “The Star-Spangled Banner”—on-key, for a miracle, and with excellent harmony. We joined in from our own rooftop. I don’t know whether we were audible to them, but it didn’t matter. We all cheered together when we finished.

Then the fireworks show on the river finished in a flurry of huge starburst shells, with LOTS of bang-crash-boom rockets right at the end. That last great thunderclap came rolling like a tidal wave across the rooftops of Brooklyn, hit the taller buildings east of us, and bounced back as an echo a moment later.

Hurrah!

July 09, 2003
How books sell
Posted by Teresa at 05:36 PM *

I was surprised to see that C. E. Petit’s normally reliable Scrivener’s Error has, er, fallen into error:

In yet another display of the ignorance of the marketing dorks in the publishing industry (and all too often those who report on it), Reuters reports that Rival Publishers Pray for Harry Potter “Halo” Effect (via the Washington Post Book World). …[T]he article begins by proclaiming that “Rather than envy U.S. Potter publisher Scholastic Corp’s success, industry insiders are grateful that Rowling’s magic touch has fired up interest in children’s books.” Hogwash. Envy is the single emotional reaction shared by virtually all publishing “industry insiders,” even when they won’t admit it, at home-run balls hit by the opposition.
I don’t know where Mr. Petit used to work, nor whom he worked with; but the Washington Post Book World’s description is accurate for the industry insiders I’ve been hearing from.

Granted, some of them don’t see why it should be the Harry Potter books that are selling like crazy, as opposed to some other author or series closer to the speaker’s heart. And I’m sure some do feel rather envious, wishing the same had happened to some of their own books. But I have yet to hear them say they wish it hadn’t happened to anyone.

What you have to understand is that all books are, in a sense, an advertisement for other books. Consider:

1. A kid who reads anything, and enjoys it, is likely to read something else. If this keeps happening, reading may well become a habit. This is good. It’s where new readers come from.

2. The same principle holds for adults. The likeliest customer for your newly-published title is someone who recently read and enjoyed a comparable book. So what if that previous book was published by your competitors? It’s selling your book to this reader for you now.

3. The Harry Potter books are introducing children to the idea of going into bookstores and buying books. This is important. It’s not just a matter of selling their parents a book or two of their own when the family comes in to buy the latest Harry Potter for their youngsters, though that’s happening too. It used to be that kids would run into books in paperback wire racks in drugstores and grocery stores, and see all those brightly-colored corrugated displays in the doorways of shopping mall chain bookstores. That’s getting less and less common. Standalone superstores are great, but they only sell books to people who go into bookstores. Like reading itself, we want that to become a habit.

4. The Harry Potter books are accelerating the process whereby young readers learn that dauntingly big thick books just have longer stories in them.

5. I’d have to be stark staring bonkers to object to having hundreds of thousands of young readers each year becoming acquainted with Our Beloved Genre.

So there.

I’ll admit, there’s been one feature of the Harry Potter phenomenon I’d just as soon have skipped. Title before last, Scholastic badly underestimated how many copies they were going to need, and had to scramble like crazy to get more made up in order to cover their orders.

The printing and binding plants always have some excess capacity to sell to publishing houses that are running late, or for some other reason have gotten themselves stuck behind the eight ball. Printing operations don’t do this out of kindness. Rush rates start at 200% and go up from there.

But when Scholastic underprinted the Harry Potter before last, the effect was unprecedented. Tor’s head of production sent a memo around saying that for the next six weeks, nothing could be late: Scholastic had sopped up every last bit of excess capacity in the industry. As far as I know, that’s never happened before. Naturally, it happened when I was diving toward the finish line on the worst-jinxed book of my career.

So, having them scarf up all the excess production capacity was something I could have done without. But selling five million hardcovers their first day? No resentment here. It’s not like I had a book coming out that month that would have had parents and children queuing up to buy it at the stroke of midnight.

And one more thing, before I return to Mr. Pettit’s post. I know for certain that Sales & Marketing people have been doing everything they can to work with the whole Harry Potter thing. If that’s the way the tide’s running, you set your nets accordingly.

Onward:
Very few “industry insiders” are literature people; those who are generally jump from publisher to publisher every few years. This greatly diminishes their influence over the overall attitude and approach of any given publisher.
I can’t match up this model with any industry patterns I’m familiar with. Sales and Marketing has a lower incidence of defrocked English and Medieval Studies majors than Editorial, but in my experience, editors are less likely to move around from house to house. More to the point, almost everyone who works in the industry is a literature-type person. If we weren’t, we’d find work in some other industry that paid better.
Instead, the sales-and-marketing types who actually constitute the vast bulk of “industry insiders”
Oh, yeah? Says who?
—as some of my more perceptive colleagues in the editorial department when I was in-house called them, “S&Ms”
Those wonderful people who spend their every working day selling my books! Gotta love ‘em.
—make two critical errors. First, they believe that the market for books and literature is a zero-sum game.
Forgive me for saying so, but I’ve never known a Sales & Marketing lifer who thought that.
This can readily become a self-fulfilling prophecy when they put out crap in the interest of short-term market share.
First, if marketing were the determining factor in publishing, Chung Kuo would have been a bestseller.

Second, people tend to overestimate the amount of genuine crap that gets published. This is because no writer appeals to every taste, and it’s hard to tell a writer who isn’t to your taste from one who isn’t to anyone’s taste. The real test is whether people buy and read the books.

Third, you might (she said, dubiously) pick up some short-term market share from artfully marketing crap, if you did everything just right; but you’d never hold on to it. And why even try? If you had that kind of marketing ability, you could pick up far more market share by applying your know-how to books that aren’t crap. It costs no more to buy good books than to hype bad ones.

Fourth, “market share” is not really an issue here. Readers don’t notice publishers. They notice books and authors.
Their second error exacerbates the first. As the Reuters article says, “Fantasy series and serials are the rage and there is no shortage of titles.” This is precisely the problem: imitation as the sincerest form of marketing.
Raise your hand if, upon finishing a book you absolutely loved, you’ve said, “Wow, that was great! I’m going to make sure I never read another book like that again!” No? I haven’t either. I wanted another book like the one I’d just finished—only different and original. Reading additional wonderful and wholly original books has only expanded the set of books I wanted another one just like of.
This is not the authors’ fault, particularly given the overwhelming slush piles at the major publishers. It is certainly not Joanne Rowling’s fault! The marketing aspects of imitation extend to putting books in single-category boxes.
For “category”, read “we put them where the readers can find them”. It’s more important that the readers be able to locate a book, and recognize it as being approximately what they had in mind, than that the category label on the spine exactly reflect the author’s artistic vision. If we ignored categories entirely, we might get the occasional breakout bestseller—but a lot more books would sell worse than they do now.
This ignores the characteristic most common to longterm successes, both critically and commercially, in publishing: transcendence of publishing “categories.”
Sure. Authors who sell enough copies of enough books transcend category. They effectively become their own category. But they get there by passing through a general category first.
Although they’re loath to admit it, a searching examination of publishers’ accounts under GAAP standards reveals something that they subconsciously know: the long-term health of a given publisher depends upon the strength of its backlist (books published more than two publishing seasons ago).
I trust we know our own numbers.
That the publishing insiders really have little idea of what they’re doing in categorizing (and hence ghettoizing) books …
Nope. That’s wrong, wrong with numbers, wrong over time, wrong in the general, wrong in the particular, and wrong in repeated tests with allowance for variables. We know as much as we can possibly find out about what we’re doing when we categorize books. Discussions of category theory (and practice) are some of the most knowledgeable and arcane conversations I hear in the office.

That’s an author kind of thing to believe, that categorizing books amounts to ghettoizing them. There’s a small nugget of truth in it. There’s no earthly reason why Francine Prose, Patricia Geary, and Tim Powers shouldn’t sell to the same readers. And we still see mainstream types announcing, with no trace of embarrassment, that such-and-such writer or book is too good to be SF.

But these are relatively mild vexations, and it is an error to imagine that, freed from the shackles of categorization, YOUR OWN BOOK would be read by Even! More! Readers!, all of whom WOULD LOVE IT. (That’s not how authors actually think. In a more accurate representation, the words shown here in boldface caps would coruscate with blinding flashes of rainbow light.)

This is approximately like believing that since cover copy and a cover image tell some readers that this is the book they’re looking for, and therefore necessarily tell other readers that it isn’t the book they’re looking for, publishing a book without any cover images or cover copy at all would guarantee it a near-universal readership.

Someone’s probably tried that. Sooner or later, the industry tries darned near everything. The ones that sell books, we keep doing.
… shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, as so few of them actually read widely and deeply in what they’re publishing.
Oh, piffle. If you define “publishing insiders” as “rank Philistines and semi-literates who have with no sense of the genuine value of books”, you’re bound to imagine that terrible things are going on.

Well, terrible things are going on. Just not the ones you’re imagining. And next week we’ll have fixed most of those, and a different set of terrible things will be happening. Also a lot of non-terrible things. And a lot of really good books. Otherwise there’d be no point in doing it.

July 05, 2003
Mixed drinks
Posted by Teresa at 06:59 PM *

General Sherman

1 peach or nectarine 1 shot bourbon or rye
good sharp ginger beer

Wash the fruit and cut into longitudinal slices; freeze. If you’re using a peach, skin it first.

To serve: Put frozen fruit slices into an old-fashioned glass, along with an ice cube or two if you want it that way. Add a good shot of whiskey, then fill the rest of the glass up with ginger beer. Stir very slightly. Garnish with a sprig of mint, a small paper umbrella, or a cocktail-size captured battle flag.

Liberal Forage
Haagen-Dazs or Breyer’s fresh peach ice cream a double shot of bourbon or rye
sharp ginger beer
frozen peach or nectarine slices
Put one or two scoops of ice cream into a tall glass. Add whiskey. Carefully pouring down the side, fill the rest of the glass with ginger beer, stopping just short of the top. Garnish with frozen fruit slices and, optionally, a sprig of mint. Serve with a bendy straw and a somewhat battered long-handled silver spoon.

[Recipe Index]

July 04, 2003
Tim Maroney
Posted by Teresa at 12:20 AM *

Those who knew Tim Maroney—and old GEnie SFRT regulars, at least, should remember him—will, I think, be as bleakly appalled as I am by the news that he collapsed in the shower Thursday morning, was rushed to the hospital, and died shortly thereafter. He was 41 years old.

He was the only brother of Kevin Maroney, a regular in the comment threads here.

I don’t know what else to say.

Okay. I keep having this picture in my head of Charon shipping his oars, mid-Styx, and stalling the boat for an indefinite sub-eternity while Tim argues with Strom Thurmond. Strom’s uncomfortable, to put it mildly. Charon’s just trying to look like he’s not enjoying it as much as he is.

I know who I’m rooting for.

July 03, 2003
Faces in the crowd
Posted by Teresa at 08:03 PM *

A photocollage of faces, from the Dean Meetup in Tucson, AZ, July 02, 2003. Second row down, third from the right, is my mother-in-law, Jan Hayden. Bottom right-hand corner is my father-in-law, Jas Hayden. And yes, Patrick does look like a computer-generated morph of his parents.

Relationship problems
Posted by Teresa at 07:51 PM *

Christina Opalecky writes a love letter to her newsgroup.

July 02, 2003
Itch
Posted by Teresa at 11:10 PM *

The New York Times has an interesting summary of our current understanding of itching and scratching.

My own understanding is that some itches are God’s way of encouraging us to be nice to each other. I refer to that perpetually itchy spot in the upper middle of our backs, the one that only contortionists can scratch. Is there any other reason it should be so itchy? I can’t see one; and so I believe it itches so our loved ones can scratch it for us, to our intense gratification and delight.

Note: God isn’t strictly necessary for this conjecture to work. You could also say that the itchy spot between our shoulderblades is evolution’s way of reminding us that we’re happier when we cooperate.

July 01, 2003
Follow the money
Posted by Teresa at 03:32 PM *

I believe I’ve identified a new variant of the vanity publishing scam. More than one publisher appears to be using it, so I’ll do a generalized description. It has a couple of interesting structural novelties. For starters, it’s configured to avoid setting off one of our most basic alarms.

For years now, we’ve been dinning Yogs Law into young writers’ heads: Money always flows toward the writer. Alternate version: The only place an author should sign a check is on the back, when they endorse it. Most of them are now clear on the idea that if a publisher wants you to pay to have your book published, or subsidize your book’s publication as a “co-investor” (a.k.a. subsidy, joint-venture, or co-op publishing), they’re a vanity operation. Some aspiring writers are sophisticated enough to recognize the sneakier forms of vanity publishing, as described by the estimable Victoria Strauss:
An increasing number of pay-to-publish ventures are trying to dodge the “vanity” label by shifting their charges to some aspect of publication other than printing and binding. Instead of asking you to pay to print your book, they ask you to buy goods or services. For instance, you may be asked to purchase editing, or to fund a publicity campaign for your book, or to hire the company’s own artistic or design staff. You may be asked to commit to buying a large number of your own books once they’re published, or to become a salesperson and pre-sell your books prior to publication. You may be asked to buy or sell ads for your book, or to pay to attend the publisher’s own expensive conferences, or to purchase a certain number of the publisher’s other books. No matter what the permutation, the bottom line is that you’re still paying money to see your work published.
One of my least favorite of these is the version where you’re asked to guarantee the advance purchase of a large number of copies of your own book. This is often represented as a “standard publishing practice” made necessary by the difficulty of selling first novels. Your money will supposedly be reimbursed when those copies sell—only they never do. In the case of some scammers, this is directly traceable to the books’ never having been printed in the first place, which undoubtedly saves a lot on printing and warehousing. The only copies that are ever made up are the few that get sent to the author.

The sheer number and variety of schemes for putting the bite on aspiring writers is why Yog made his law so simple. No matter what anybody tells you, no matter where in the process you’re asked to cough up the cash, no matter what they call their program: if money is flowing away from the writer, there’s something wrong.

So, when a writer armed with this wisdom encounters this new scam, it doesn’t look like a bad deal. The publisher undertakes to do all the pre-press production, printing, and binding, at little or no charge to the author. They don’t require authors to buy some pre-set quantity of their own books, either, and they pay a small royalty on each copy sold. Sales are made through the online booksellers. It look a lot like a standard POD operation. There’s just one oddity, not something you’d notice in advance: the publisher’s cover prices are higher—sometimes a lot higher—than you’d see on comparable titles from other POD publishers.

What’s the trick? It’s a combination of low production costs, high cover prices, and immutable auctorial behavior patterns. Authors always want copies of their books, and they always sell further copies to their friends and relations. Here’s something interesting: Jim Macdonald says that whenever one of these New Model Publishers (not just the scammers; all of them) gets to bragging in public about their total number of titles published and copies sold, the derivable average number of copies per title comes out right around seventy-five.

If a vanity publisher’s production and setup costs are low enough, and the cover prices on their books are high enough, they don’t have to make the author commit to purchase hundreds of copies of his own book. They can make their profit off the average number of copies the author and the author’s friends-and-relations are going to buy anyway. The publishers still aren’t making their money selling books to the general reading public. They’re still making their profit off the author and the author’s posse. They’ve just made it a lot harder to see that.

This is moderately clever. It relocates the sting to the point of retail sale, where it’s never been before. Further camouflage is provided by the author’s tendency to see that transaction as a book sale, a good thing, not as the vanity publishing on a per-copy installment plan that it really is.

What’s the difference between this scheme and books that just don’t sell very well? It’s the cover price. That’s the tip-off. Imagine you’re a publisher. If you honestly think a book is going to sell to a general audience, you set its price at a level comparable with other books of its sort. But if you consistently set your prices higher than consumers would imaginably pay, you’re betting against your own books. You’re calculating that there’s no chance this book is going to be bought by anyone who doesn’t know the author, so you lose nothing by giving it a cover price that guarantees it won’t be bought by strangers. Instead, you make your money by putting the squeeze on Rabbit’s Friends and Relations.

(Exception: Specialized nonfiction sold to a specialized audience. Totally different scene. Disregard it.)

Some additional background: Three developments have gone into making this new variant possible. First, there’s computerized desktop publishing (DTP) technology, which lets you pour the author’s electronic text into an existing template, run a spellchecker over it, and come out with something that superficially resembles proper text pages. This process is to your full-scale publishing production cycle as a cardboard display dummy is to a real computer, but if you’re not worried about quality control it can be extremely cheap.

Second, there are the ongoing developments in binding and dry-copying technology that have make it feasible to do short runs of books while incurring relatively low press setup charges. This sometimes gets referred to as POD (print on demand), though it isn’t; POD is a business and production model. This is the technology that POD publishing is based on.

Third, there’s online bookselling. Used to be, vanity publishers didn’t claim to be booksellers, for good reason: going out and selling books is a lot of work. However, it’s relatively easy to shovel your titles into the maw of Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. It’s a real stone soup kind of deal: they’ll sell any book that sells itself. But the setup enables vanity publishers to represent themselves as booksellers, which means they get to set the cover prices.

So there’s your necessary mechanism: (1.) lower production costs on the book, (2.) lower set-up charges for reproducing it, and (3.) the power to set the cover price, meets (4.) a relatively predictable number of sales generated by (5.) the irresistible desire of authors to buy copies of their own book, and talk their friends and relations into buying it too.

[Note: If you aren’t familiar with the basic publishing scams, you might find it instructive and amusing to check out the Writer Beware! and Preditors & Editors websites, Victoria Strauss’s original Writer Beware article, and the Writers’ Center Scam Kit. (Motto: “The easy path to publication is paved with your dollars.”)]

Pythagoras in Babylon
Posted by Teresa at 10:44 AM *

From the Babylonian Mathematics website:

In this article we examine four Babylonian tablets which all have some connection with Pythagoras’s theorem. Certainly the Babylonians were familiar with Pythagoras’s theorem. A translation of a Babylonian tablet which is preserved in the British museum goes as follows:
4 is the length and 5 the diagonal. What is the breadth ? Its size is not known.
4 times 4 is 16.
5 times 5 is 25.
You take 16 from 25 and there remains 9.
What times what shall I take in order to get 9 ?
3 times 3 is 9.
3 is the breadth.
All the tablets we wish to consider in detail come from roughly the same period, namely that of the Old Babylonian Empire which flourished in Mesopotamia between 1900 BC and 1600 BC.
From the Counting in Babylon website:
Some of the clay tablets discovered contain lists of triplets of numbers, starting with (3, 4, 5) and (5, 12, 13) which are the lengths of sides of right angled triangles, obeying Pythagoras’ “sums of squares” formula. In particular, one tablet, now in a collection at Yale, shows a picture of a square with the diagonals marked, and the lengths of the lines are marked on the figure: the side is marked <<< meaning thirty (fingers?) long, the diagonal is marked:

<<<<11 <<11111 <<<11111.

This translates to 42, 25, 35, meaning 42 + 25/60 + 35/3600. Using these figures, the ratio of the length of the diagonal to the length of the side of the square works out to be 1.414213… Now, if we use Pythagoras’ theorem, the diagonal of a square forms with two of the sides a right angled triangle, and if we take the sides to have length one, the length of the diagonal squared equals 1 + 1, so the length of the diagonal is the square root of 2. The figure on the clay tablet is incredibly accurate—the true value is 1.414214… Of course, this Babylonian value is far too accurate to have been found by measurement from an accurate drawing—it was clearly checked by arithmetic multiplication by itself, giving a number very close to two.

For further interesting mathematical history, see the website of the University of St Andrews School of Mathematics and Statistics’ History of Mathematics Archive, which also has a Famous Curves Index, pages about Egyptian, Indian, Arabic, and Mayan mathematics, and histories of things like Zero, Indian Numerals (which are weird), Arabic Numerals (which rotated), and Pi. From this last I learn that the value of Pi was calculated as 3.162 by the Mesopotamians, 3.16 by the Egyptians, 3.0 by the builders of King Solomon’s Temple (must try harder), 3.1418 by Archimedes of Syracuse, 355/113 by Tsu Ch’ung Chi, and (sigh of relief) 3.1416 by Abu Ja’far Muhammad ibn Musa Al-Khwarizmi; also that Al-Khwarizmi is where we get the word “algorithm”, a word I’ve often wondered about at moments when I wasn’t able to look it up, and forgotten to look up when I could.

Betty Bowers
Posted by Teresa at 08:04 AM *

Betty Bowers, America’s Best Christian, is campaigning for Bush’s reelection. (via Erik Olson)

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Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.