“Only two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity — and I’m not sure about the former.” — Albert Einstein
A HEAVENLY PIONEER
Bloomington’s own Camilla Williams, international opera star and professor emeritus at IU, died Sunday. She was 92.
Williams was thought to be the first black woman to appear with a major US opera company, the New York City Opera in 1946. Her late husband, Charles Beavers, was an attorney for Malcolm X.
MASTER OF MINIMALISM
Philip Glass is 75 today. He is also still very, very cool.
Do yourself a favor and download the documentary, “Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance.” It is a gloriously beautiful and ugly examination of life on late 20th Century Earth. It has no narrator; no human’s voice is heard throughout. The only sound you’ll hear is Glass’s musical score.
Glass presaged trance music by decades. And the composer certainly influenced Brian Eno, whose ambient forms beginning in the mid-1970s helped save the world from the navel-gazing pap of the likes of Kansas and other uber-pretentious prog rockers.
Glass may well be the composer music students in the year 2512 revere as they do Bach or Wagner today.
INDIANA: THE SQUARED STATE
Now that the great state o’Indiana is considering teaching the myth of Intelligent Design in our public schools, it’s worth keeping in mind that our fair fiftieth of this holy land once before attempted to throw a caveman’s club into the gears of intellectual progress.
Mental Floss points out that in the 1890s, an Indiana chucklehead by the name of Edward J. Goodwin fantasized that he’d discovered a method to “square the circle,” a long disproved mathematical exercise. Goodwin was convinced that by equating the circle with a square, one could easily find its area.
Part of Goodwin’s fever dream was to jigger with the value of pi, the constant that allows the sane among us to calculate a circle’s area. It was the equivalent of NASA navigators saying, “Aw, what the hell, let’s just call the distance to the moon 240,000 miles — what’s a couple thousand miles one way or another?”
Given that attitude, the mummified corpses of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin might today be floating several billion miles outside our Solar System.
Just Point That Thing Toward The Moon, Boys
Goodwin — from the town of Solitude, appropriately enough — told the world in the 1890s that he’d found the secret to squaring the circle. In the grand tradition of many another snake oil salesman, Goodwin was more than willing to let mathematicians and educators use his secret formula — for a price.
But he had a soft spot for Indiana and offered to let Hoosier State schools teach his method for free as long as the state legislature would enact a statute declaring his crackpot idea the real thing.
And guess what — several Indiana House committees studied his equations, including his insistence that pi should be 3.2 (as opposed to the accurate constant 3.141592653589793….) The committees approved Goodwin’s methods and wrote up a bill declaring pi to be 3.2 and the circle, legally, squared.
And then the full House approved the bill unanimously! By the time the nation’s newspapers got hold of this news and began to bray with laughter at Indiana, the state Senate defeated the bill. Even that vote was iffy after a Senate committee passed it onto the floor.
Science and Indiana — I wonder if this is the first time the two words have ever appeared together in print.
GIRL OF MY DREAMS
Another chestnut from my college radio years, by Bram Tchiakovsky.
Pure power pop poetry:
Judy was an American girl/
She came in the morning/
With the US Mail.
Enjoy the soaring melody, goosebump harmony, and bell-ringing rhythm chord progressions.
Actually, “do yourself a favor” and get “Koyaanisqatsi on DVD (I have it, or Netflix it) and watch it on as big and as good a screen as you can, with as good a sound system as you can muster. Make the kids watch it. Invite friends. It starts slowly so they might be restless at first, but ends with an emotional bang few movies can replicate.