In Which I Am Insulted By My Reading


So I was enjoying some of my light early-summer reading, Carl B Boyer’s The History of the Calculus and its Conceptual Development, 1939’s feel-good hit of the mathematical history book trade. And early on in the second chapter he had this:

Pythagorean deduction a priori having met with remarkable success in its field, an attempt (unwarranted, it is now recognized) was made to apply it to the description of the world of events, in which Ionian hylozoistic interpretations a posteriori had made very little headway.

Well, I mean, good grief, how did Dr Boyer even figure that sentence was needed? Is there anyone who goes around saying, “boy, but the Ionian hylozoistic interpretation a posteriori is a fantastic description of the world of events”? We’re not savages. My father — Dad, back me up on this one — I remember sitting me down, before he ever took us up to see Santa Claus at Macy’s in Manhattan for the first time, pointing out the unwarranted nature of applying Pythagorean deduction to the world of events. I don’t even know who those parentheses are for. It’s like he has no conception of his audience. Ionian hylozoistic interpretations, sheesh!

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The trading floor was consumed today with a hypothetical question. Consider there must be some part of the United States government that works out plans just in case an extraterrestrial alien is found on Earth; it’s a remote possibility, but one of such enormous historic import that at least a working plan ought to be in mind. Anyway, they surely have some name to designate the lifeform and what it might do and who’ll be responsible for showing it a good time. Well, what if in the 1980s they designated the thing as “Alien Life Form” and then the sitcom came along and made it just impossible to use that name and be taken seriously? Huh? Anyway, when they were all done pondering that secret government agency having to change a name they found the index had risen 23 points, which has got to be the most it’s ever done in one day but who can tell?

204

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November: Its First Impressions


It’s a strange start to November considering I haven’t put my first lip balm of the season through the wash yet. Combined with the ongoing leaf-bootleggers keeping our yard clean it’s got the month going in weird directions. Anyway, that’s all got me putting off the monthly review of what was popular around these parts because I was feeling lazy. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe next year.

Mostly, I’m just glad that Halloween night I’m pretty sure I was able to take the trash to the curb without anyone photographing how I was wearing my raccoon mask. That feels like it would be a little too meme-worthy for my style of living.

Meanwhile, I started reading a book on the history of Pythagoreanism because I figured I should do more than just make jokes about it. And then right at the top of the second chapter it mentions how one story has it that Pythagoras talked a greedy bull out of eating beans. So that is going exactly and in every detail just as I had imagined.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index broke out of its holding pattern at 94 and even rose a bit, giving traders hope that they’d get it back up above a hundred, at this rate, tomorrow. And if the trend continues they might even see 200 as soon as next month, which wouldn’t that be a treat?

97

The Triangle Code


My love and I were talking about the Pythagoreans because that’s the kind of people we are. Also because the Pythagoreans are interesting. They have that mix of philosophical and mathematical ideas fused into something too nutty for Ancient Greece to put up with. It’s hard to be sure we know much about the Pythagoreans that’s true and not the result of people making fun of them.

Thing is, Pythagoras must have had something going for him. Remember, he was able to tell people he could write on the moon, appear in many places at once, and show off a golden thigh in the Olympics. And he still got followers. Most of us couldn’t lie about our cell phone’s camera resolution and get anyone to believe it. Maybe he was just that charismatic; maybe he had a good organization behind him.

There’s stories that Pythagoras had children. Maybe that’s a pious myth from his followers, attributing all the cult’s children to him. Maybe he figured he had a mass of children inside the Sun. Maybe he actually did, though. Maybe there’s, even now, people directly descended from Pythagoras out there. What’s got me is that after Pythagoras’s cult got broken up, possibly by running them into beans, that’s the last we hear of them. There’s no sad little attempt to put the gang back together led by his son or some fan who figured the thing just needed better presentation. It’s just gone.

Or is it? What if the Pythagoreans just went underground, building their number in the strictest of secrecy? And then working to alter the world to their liking? They might pull stunts like rejiggering the way we write numbers so that it’s based on “ten” or pushing the idea that the planets move around the sun. We realized we’ve got the seeds here for a nice and stupid Dan Brown-esque novel here. And every time we need comic relief just stuff in one of those stories people keep telling about the Pythagoreans.

This got me thinking about conspiracy theories. Why do people like secret-masters-of-the-world conspiracy theories? The traditional answer is that the world is big and scary and looks crazy most of the time. But if some secret organization is manipulating everything to their benefit, well, all right. It may make no sense but at least there’s some plan behind it all.

A couple months back I heard of a conspiracy theory behind Whitney Houston’s death. Apparently she said something about the Illuminati while appearing on Ellen and they got her for it. And that’s got me wondering. Suppose the theory’s true. That implies someone found the Illuminati and thought joining the secret rulers of the world was a great idea. And the guy went through the intense screening and interview process. Think what his résumé must have looked like. Think of his getting letters of reference from imaginary people so far as anyone can prove. The guy showed up for the first day of Illuminati work — imagine what the paperwork is like! — and watched all the training and harassment and drug policy videos. And then after all that, he gets his first assignment. And it’s “watch the daytime talk shows in case popular singers mention the Illuminati”. And he couldn’t even complain to people about the lousy job he’s got. He knows he’s monitored by the guy in Secret Cubicle SOC1-L7-07A. (The cubicles go right from SOC1-L7-07 to SOC1-L7-08 without an ‘A’ in-between.) And that guy’s fed up with IlluminaTwitter notifications.

OK, maybe some super-technological monitoring system means they don’t have to watch everything. Maybe their IlluminaComputer tells them when someone said something too much. That means there’s secret rulers of society having meetings about whether the time has come to kill Whitney Houston. Maybe the appeal of conspiracies is the fantasy of being part of an organization that has purposeful meetings.

I mean, you never do hear about someone who joins into the secret conspiracy ruling humanity, and finds it’s full of the same petty office politics and dreary paperwork and meaningless action as anyone else’s job is. Though in that circumstance, you know, well-done.

Confidential to guy in SOC1-L7-07A: I’m not saying the Illuminati have any connection to the Pythagoreans. I know you guys brand around a pyramid, which is a completely different kind of triangle, unless you imagine folding it in half. I’m not looking for any trouble. I only watch Ellen when someone left it on at the vet’s office. And I didn’t even realize Whitney Houston had died. I guess she did. That would be a weird thing to fake, unless she was needed in some secret bean work.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose three points today, reaching our FM radio home of just the hits of the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 2000s, and today. We think the station was abandoned years ago and someone left their iPod on shuffle.

104

Me Week: What Philosophers Give Me


My love is a professional philosopher. This has encouraged me to pay more attention to philosophers. It’s a group of people I mostly know because a lot of philosophers were also mathematicians. For a long stretch there they were also lawyers and priests, but that’s just what you did if it was the middle ages and you didn’t want to be a serf, a boatman, or a miller.

Back in September 2013, we got to talking about Pythagoras, who’s renowned for being a cult leader that might have done something in mathematics or philosophy or both. It’s hard to say. But in Pythagoras and the Golden Middle-Ish I was enchanted by something I hadn’t heard about Pythagoras before. Yes, it’s got Olympics content, because of course, Pythagoras. You would.

If that hasn’t satisfied your interest in philosophers, here’s a little pop quiz you can take. No fair cheating!

The November 2015 Scraps File


Once more, here’s a pile of words that I couldn’t use in my humor blog. If you want to do anything with them, please, have fun and let me know if it makes you any money. It would be nice to think my words are providing for somebody. I didn’t hear if last month’s did anybody any good.

  • fresh hickory pickle — cut because it sounds too sing-songy, like I’m trying too hard to write a fake nursery rhyme.
  • that thrilling moment in a history of scientific thought when they mention Pythagoras of Samos and you’re going to get to hear what he thought of the matter — cut because it turned out Pythagoras was just quoting Thales and it wasn’t anywhere near the grade of whacked-out loopiness you expect from the man who gave us Olympic gold-thigh-presentation.
  • well, really — cut from the start of several dozen sentences because I didn’t need the warm-up after all.
  • xam — from the 1966 M F Enterprises run of Captain Marvel; it’s the code word that Captain Marvel, a robot from another planet, used to reverse the body-splitting process that he used for those cases where a supervillain might be foiled by having a detached forearm sprung at him.
  • and if you’re smart you’ll see your dentist right away — line from that episode of M*A*S*H where Hawkeye and Trapper John fool Frank into mining gold, which totally happened for some reason.
  • some days you just need a DVR full of Joe E Brown baseball comedies — while true, it’s too far outside baseball season, even if I was just watching the movie where he’s hoping to join the Cardinals so he can earn the five thousand dollars he’ll need to bring his improved fire extinguisher to market.
  • I remember how you liked to peel your own bananas — weird line to have in a piece that’s otherwise about the spell checker being mean to me.
  • come to think of it — cut from the end of several dozen sentences because I didn’t need the cool-down after all.

Things I Don’t Understand About Another Ancient Greek


My dear love was looking up information about the ancient Greek wrestler Milo of Croton for good reasons that I’m sure existed. The interest in Milo was pretty casual up to the point of discovering that he was affiliated in some way with Pythagoras of Samos, the Pythagoras famous for siding with squares and making people laugh over his bean issues, assuming he and his followers had any particular bean issues and people didn’t just make that up so people would laugh about the Pythagoreans. You probably have problems like that too. Famous figures of Ancient Greece usually have hilarious stories attached to them, but when they intersect with Pythagoras — whom you’ll remember as a man who allegedly claimed to have a golden thigh and the ability to write on the Moon — the crazy-funny level just leaps up and usually off the charts and lands in a beanfield where it dies of embarrassment.

For example: it’s apparently argued whether Milo had anything to do with the famous Pythagoras of Samos, because he might have just been associated with another Pythagoras of Samos who happened to be an athletic trainer. See, Milo was a seven-time Olympic athlete, so he’d have good reason to bother with athletic-type people. This is assuming that Pythagoras of Samos the Athletic Trainer wasn’t also Pythagoras of Samos the Loopy Philosopher/Mathematician/Cult Leader.

But as Olympic athletes go, Milo was apparently one of them, with a win in boys’ wrestling and then five men’s wrestling titles. Apparently he was beaten at his seventh Olympics by a young wrestler who’d developed a style of “arm’s length” wrestling. My love and I aren’t sure exactly what that style is. It makes it sound like he was beaten by slap-fighting. I’m not surprised he didn’t return to the games after being beaten by that; I wouldn’t blame him if he died of embarrassment. But maybe I’m reading it wrong. Maybe he was bested by an opponent who stood at arm’s length and held out his arms and kept pointing out “I’m not touching you” until Milo stormed off in disgust. Again, I wouldn’t fault him for not returning with something to foil this tactic, like, telling his opponent’s moms on them.

But being unable to believe the slapping and not-touching in the Olympics was the least of his accomplishments. Apparently he was a military leader who convinced the Crotoniates to lead an army to defend the Sybarites against Telys, tyrant of Sybaris. Now to be fair, by which I mean dismissive, that’s just the sort of thing you did in those days. You just weren’t part of Ancient Greek society unless you were setting up a tyrant or overthrowing a tyrant. And it was important to cities, too. Not getting the occasional tyrant to be overthrown marked a city as the seriously hick part of the Peloponnese, the way you today might look askance at a metro region that can’t even get an Arena Football team. Some up-and-coming cities would rent out a battlefield and set up themselves while overthrowing them and put themselves on the map that way.

But not everyone did this work in style; according to Didorus, and if you can’t trust him who can you trust, said he lead the Crotonites into battle while draped in a lion’s skin, wielding a club in a Hercules-like manner, and wearing his Olympic crowns. The lion skin I don’t wonder about, but: his crowns? All five of them? How? I know they weren’t, like, the crowns the Queen of Britain wears — remember, Pythagoras of Samos and the ancient Greeks lived literally more than three centuries before Queen Elizabeth II — and were more kind of wreaths of flowers of the kind you wear when you’re a charming bride. But that’s still, five. Put five crowns of anything on your head and you’re going to have them flying off all the time, unless you keep one hand clinging to your scalp so as to maintain some semblance of balance. It’s got to throw off his club-wielding. This is the price for not being able to pick just one crown.

Of course, who says he wore them all on his head? Maybe he put one on his head, and one on each arm, and one around each thigh? That would be quite practical as long as he didn’t have to share a tight seat, such as on a roller coaster, with someone. But why would he? Chairs wouldn’t be invented for dozens of years until after his death, the date of which is not actually known.

According to further legend, he died when he attempted to split a tree down the middle with his bare hands, which got stuck, which sounds like a worse way to die than just “of embarrassment following an Olympic slap-fighting loss”. But apparently while his hands were stuck he was set upon by wolves, who ate him, which raises a further question: what, he couldn’t tear some wolves limb-from-limb using just his feet? There is a painting by Joseph-Benoit Suvée (1743 – 1807) which purports to show Milo at his wolf-induced death, arguably fighting off the wolves with his feet, although it really looks to me more like he’s working on advanced belly rubs. I have to point out that there’s little evidence Suvée ever met Milo and none that he interviewed any of the wolves involved.

There’s much more to the legend of Milo of Croton, of course, and I may come back to it, but for now I think it fair to say: Ancient Greece. Like, what the heck, guys? You know?

Pop Quiz: Philosophers


  1. Pythagoras:
    1. I know, right?
    2. The hypotenuse squared over the sum of the sides.
    3. E = mc2.
    4. Beanfields.
  2. Descartes:
    1. Pituitary glands.
    2. God’s too nice to make mad scientists?
    3. Mornings kill people.
    4. I yam what I yam and tha’s all what I yam.
  3. Nietzsche:
    1. Oh, dear Lord.
    2. Just set that down and come back when you’re at least ten years older.
    3. Or you could start punching that book right now.
    4. Both (b) and (c).

September 2013 In These Numbers


Last month’s bunch of number-reporting came out successfully, in that it was a thing that existed and I didn’t get in any trouble over it, so I’ll try it again. For September I had a total of 397 pages viewed — my second-highest on record, not all that far below June’s 441, and an improvement viewing-wise from August’s 349 — and 162 viewers — fourth-highest, but up from August’s 141 — which means my pages-per-viewer ratio has gotten to 2.45, pretty trivially behind August’s high of 2.48.

The most popular articles of the past thirty days were:

  1. Pythagoras and the Golden Middle-Ish, inspired by an odd quote about Pythagoras and which got a bit of help because I know it captured the fancy of a philosopher and passed on to at least one class;
  2. My Dimmed Stars, about the oddity of someone going around giving mediocre ratings to a lot of articles;
  3. The Mystery Of My Power Cord, which I actually forgot I wrote, about something odd happening with the computer’s power;
  4. Missing International Rabbit Day, which was destined for success because our rabbit is more popular than I am;
  5. Getting To Yes, about an oddity in the download from a quite nice album by the band Steven’s Salute.
  6. The countries sending me the most readers this month are, again, the United States (343, which you surely recognize as the cube of seven), the United Kingdom (7 … really, that few? But you surely recognize that as the cube root of 343), and Canada (6 … I had thought there were more Canadians out there, somewhere, like in Maine or something). Sending me just a single reader each were Argentina, Finland, France, Indonesia, the Philippines, Serbia, South Africa, and South Korea. Indonesia and France carry on their streak of just barely liking me.

    I realize all that, while numbers, isn’t particularly humorous, so please consider these: 46, 8 1/4, 2^{3^{4^{5}}}\div 6 , the cosine of -7, and the largest number smaller than the square root of two. Thank you.

Pythagoras and the Golden Middle-Ish


Say what you like about Pythagoras of Samos, and you mostly can because nearly all his leading followers have gone and died from embarrassment over being asked to explain what precisely the thing with the beans is about, but here’s a bit of legend that really caught me. It’s from Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, which I never heard of either: “Pythagoras is said to have had a golden thigh, which he showed to Abaris, the Hyperborean priest, and exhibited in the Olympic games.”

Think of the stories that sentence implies. The obvious question is, was it the left or the right thigh? And was it the whole thigh or just one side? I’d think you’d want the gold to be the outer thigh, so as to make it easier to show off, but maybe Pythagoras didn’t get to pick. For that matter, why a golden thigh?

Continue reading “Pythagoras and the Golden Middle-Ish”