Tuesday, January 14, 2014

How's Your New Year Going So Far? Popcorn by The Colonel #79

Have you even thought about, let alone kept, even one of your New Year’s Resolutions in the last week?

If your answer is in the negative, don’t feel bad, because there’s usually not much good in feeling bad. It would be better to do one positive act, even a random act of senseless kindness, than to stew.

Did you know that the articles of the Koran are arranged in order of length, shortest first?

Did you know that Muslims consider it wrong to translate the Koran into other languages?

Do you consider the sentiment “people who need people are the luckiest people in the world” depressing nonsense? If so, consider committing a random act of uplifting nonsense to help right the karmic balance.

If you believe in the possibility of interpretation, interpret this: “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard, because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with! Is that right?”

Here are three possibilities:

“In that movie, it meant that if anything in this world will make you happy, it’s your own family and friends, the people close to you that you love and who love you in return. Which is sort of the way one defines the word ‘home’ -- the place inhabited by those you love the most. And if you don’t find your happiness in family and friends, then the other things you thought would bring you happiness will fail you, too.”

“Lao Tsu said that the happiest person is one who lives in a place where he cannot hear even his neighbor’s dogs bark. The search for happiness outside oneself is futile; it isn’t there. Look inside -- everything else is an illusion, hence not really there, and you can’t lose something that isn’t there to begin with.”

“Good for you, browneyedgirl, for not getting that quote. It’s a piece of meaningless Hollywood nonsense. You are smarter than the authors of the screenplay. (That quote does not appear in Baum’s books, only in the movie.)”

The previous three items were actual answers to brown-eyed girl’s question to Yahoo! Answers about the meaning of the passage. We liked the final Grinchy answer best because of the concept of “meaningless Hollywood nonsense”; it opens the door to “meaningful Hollywood nonsense” and “meaningful nonsense” generally. 

Here are three more interpretations, not from Yahoo!:

“The right meaningless Hollywood nonsense can be a girl’s career’s best friend.”

“If you can’t find your heart’s desire in your own backyard, check your neighbor’s backyard. Your heart’s desire may have jumped the fence to fight with your neighbor’s dogs.”

“Try your basement. Anything could be down there. Don’t read Stephen King first.”

Susan Sontag wrote a book titled “Against Interpretation.” What did she mean by that?

In case you saw the Courant item “Newington: Police Department Offers Disposal for Unwanted Drugs,” have a care. The police are not referring to that tab of brown acid you’ve been saving since Woodstock (with the certificate of authenticity signed by Wavy Gravy), about which the guy on stage said, “Don’t take the brown acid, people -- it’s giving really bad trips.” Keep the tab -- and the certificate! -- till the Antiques Road Show jumps the shark. Then you can go on the show with your tab of authentic Woodstock bad trip brown acid. With luck, you will never have money worries again.

What does the following make you think of? “No form of government has yet been discovered by which cruelty can be wholly prevented. Subordination supposes power on the one part, and subjection on the other, and if power be in the hands of men, it will sometimes be abused.” (Samuel Johnson) Answer: if you are a Democrat, Chris Christie. If you are a Republican other than Chris Christie, Barack Obama.

The rest of today’s popcorn is more like heavy German cooking, but it’s very satisfying if you like that sort of thing.

The pleasures of lexical detection:

“Geoffrey Chaucer included [the word dulcarnon] in his poem Troilus and Criseyde of about 1374. Criseyde says that she’s ‘in a dulcarnon’ over something and is at her wits’ end. This led to I am at dulcarnon meaning that the speaker is utterly perplexed or at a complete loss.
“In the middle of the nineteenth century increased interest in the works of Chaucer and the history of language led to scholars being deeply puzzled about dulcarnon. No other word like it existed in English and its own origins were unknown.
“The matter was eventually cleared up by the famous philologist and Chaucer scholar Professor Walter Skeat. He worked out that it’s from Arabic dhu’lqarnayn, 'two-horned,' an epithet applied to Alexander the Great because he claimed descent from Amun, a god of ancient Egypt who was often depicted with ram’s horns.
“When Euclid wrote his famous Elements of Geometry, he illustrated Pythagoras’s theorem [that the square of the hypotenuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the two adjacent sides] by a diagram showing squares built on the three sides of a right-angled triangle. The way the picture was oriented made the upper two look fancifully like horns, and in medieval times they were known to irreverent or exasperated students as dulcarnons. Many found Pythagoras’s theorem impossible to understand and dulcarnon came to mean an irresolvable puzzle.
“Chaucer had Criseyde’s uncle Pandarus tell her that a dulcarnon was also called the flight of wretches. Unfortunately, he had his Euclid confused. This actually referred to a different proposition, known in Latin as the fuga miserorum [=flight of wretches] or the pons asinorum, the bridge of asses. It proved that the angles opposite the equal sides of an isosceles triangle are themselves equal. This was the first real test of intelligence for someone studying geometry and anyone who couldn’t understand it was unlikely to be able to master the rest of Euclid.
“Dulcarnon has been confused with horns of a dilemma. However, that refers to being forced to choose between two equally unsatisfactory alternatives, not being at a loss how to proceed at all.” World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion 2014.

The Colonel has  returned to the stadium with questions. Start with “bridge of asses” (or “bridge of fools”). So it’s the first “hard” proposition in Euclid’s geometry, and causes “asses” (fools) to give up geometry? If so, the name doesn’t make sense.

One theory is that the diagram itself looks like a bridge. If that were so, why “of asses” if asses never traverse it? Why not “turnpike of asses”? (Sudden blick from The Wizard of Oz: “I’d Turn Back If I Were You.”)

Another theory is that the theorem is the “bridge” to the harder propositions that follow. Same objection: why “of fools,” if fools never use it? Why not “the turning point of fools”?

Until the future dispels the mists of the past, we walk in ignorance. If you know the answer, please share it in the comments section, if necessary anonymously in the manner of a gutless coward.

Also, shame on Euclid, on two horns. First, he used a tough proof for something easy to prove by simpler means. Second, modern geometry textbooks follow a different path at that point, leading more gently to the harder stuff. So Euclid may have been a better geometer than pedagogue.

What simpler proof, you ask, that the angles opposite the equal sides of an isosceles triangle are equal? For the first time in Popcorn by The Colonel, here it is:

Imagine a triangle on paper before you like an upright pyramid. The two sides are equal in length and the base is shorter or longer than the sides. Now imagine a line (technically a “segment,” since a line has no ends) from the top of the triangle to the midpoint of the base. You now have two mirror image triangles, or if you “flip” one of them, two congruent (identical) triangles. Where triangle A and triangle B are identical, all the angles within A are identical to the corresponding angles within B. Wasn’t that easy? You and we have crossed the "bridge of asses" together.


Elizabeth Bobrick said...

Esteemed Colonel,

This week's column is a doozy. I bow in your general direction.

It causes me pain, therefore, to point out that an important comma is missing in this sentence:"Imagine a triangle on paper before you like an upright pyramid."

What happens if I choose to like an upright pyramid *before* I imagine a triangle?

Euclid, I've a feeling we're not in Alexandria anymore.

ever yr. humble servant,
Elizabeth Bobrick

Two Hands Clapping said...

Dear Elizabeth Bobrick, Thanks for the bow and the catch. Actually the omitted comma is part of our migration to simplified writing: no capital letters, no punctuation and no spaces between words. But as the Wicked Witch of the West didn't quite say, "These things must be done gradually." Yr. hmb. & obt. civet right backachoo, Col. T. H. Clapping

Bill Flood said...

Actually, the warning on the brown acid didn't say "don't take it" or anything about bad trips, necessarily. The announcement was merely that "it's not too good… but it's your own trip."

Two Hands Clapping said...

Dear Bill Flood,

Correction accepted gratefully, but they do so that if you remember Woodstock, you weren't there.

The Colonel