Now that we are heading squarely into the 2012 campaign — did a hear a collective groan? — I need to unburden myself about one thing that I just hate: when politicians who no longer occupy an office still are addressed by the title they once held.
If you see Sarah Palin being interviewed, you’re likely to hear her addressed as “Governor Palin.” Alan Simpson, once a Senator from Wyoming, still gets called “Senator Simpson.” Why? This is America, where we don’t have hereditary titles. If you occupy an office, of course you should be addressed by the appropriate title. But if you’ve left the job, in my book you’ve left the title, too. It’s like the scene in the John Adams mini-series where Adams, having been defeated in his bid for reelection, boards a common coach and tells the surprised fellow passengers that he is just “Mr. Adams” now. If only the less accomplished members of the modern political class were as willing to assume the role of a mere American citizen again!
So as this campaign season rolls onward, don’t expect to hear me referring to “Governor Romney” or “Governor Pawlenty” or “Governor Huntsman” (or for that matter “Ambassador Huntsman”). In the land of the free, “Mr.” is what they are, and “Mr.” is what they should be called.
I love to drive, and I particularly love to drive west. That is because when you drive west from Ohio you can see the country change — gradually, to be sure, but inexorably. You roll through the remainder of the Great Lakes region and past the Mississippi River, and you see the land flatten out and dry out. Then rolling hills arise, and they become rockier and craggier. The vistas become more sweeping, and the horizon retreats into the far distance. And then, at some point, the last spots of green are bleached from the landscape, and suddenly you recognize that you are entering the great western American desert.
I love that moment when you realize that you are truly in the west, in the land of browns and buttes, with the ground dessicated and cracked and the outline of the craggy mountains in sharp relief against the blue sky. I think it is some of the most beautiful country you can find anywhere. This edge of the desert photo was taken in Wyoming.
You will remember pi, of course. It is the mathematical constant whose value is the ratio of any circle’s circumference to its diameter. Pi also is the ratio of a circle’s area to the square of its radius. Simply by writing those two sentences I have caused most readers to grit their teeth, remember their high school geometry and higher math courses with a grim shudder, and thank their lucky stars that they never have to use such concepts in their jobs.
Pi is probably the most important mathematical constant, and it is also the point at which math begins to reveal its dark, kinky soul. Pi is an irrational number that starts as 3.14 and then trails off into an endless series of numbers that do not repeat. Some friendless, misguided people celebrate March 14 — that is, 3.14 — as pi day and do things like bake pies with the value of pi to a certain number of decimal places along the rim of the pie crust.
Given the celebration of pi, and its weird irrationality, in the math community, who would have suspected that there is an anti-pi contingent? But there is, and yesterday was their day. These friendless, misguided math enthusiasts propound tau as the preferred alternative to pi. Tau is a mathematical constant that is twice as large as pi; hence tau is 6.28 and change, and tau day is June 28. Why do the tau proponents dis pi and tout tau? They say that tau is a more natural, convenient way to express the mystical qualities of circles, because circles really are about radii — that is, the distance from a circle’s center to the points along the circle — not diameters.
Now that tau day is over, we can gratefully return to our daily lives.