The editors take aim at the good, the bad and the ugly
Summers in SandersWhen the members of the Harvard presidential search committee anointed former treasury secretary and world-renowned economist Larry Summers for the Harvard throne, they may not have realized the impact the decision could have for first-years in the College.
The day after the appointment was officially announced at Loeb House, the NASDAQ plunged 6 percent, and Wall Street had its first bear market of the millennium. The faltering economy is a problem for President George W. Bush, who was noted during the presidential debates for his insistence that critics of his tax plan were using "fuzzy math." If government revenues dry up, Bush may have to backtrack on his huge tax cut proposal.
Incidentally, Bush was elected by scarcely more voters in Florida than there were members of the Harvard Board of Overseers who met Sunday on the 64th floor of the GE building in Manhattan to vote unanimously for Summers. This slim mandate means a soured economy, and no tax cuts may prompt voters to turn against Bush in the polls for his inability to stop the market slide. Perhaps he'll call on Baker Professor of Economics Martin S. Feldstein, another world-renowned economist who, like Summers, used to work in government but has since returned to the Academy. If Feldstein were to leave for Washington, there would be an opening for a new instructor for Social Analysis 10: Principles of Economics, lovingly called Ec 10 by the hoards of prospective economics concentrators who crowd into the lectures in Sanders Theater. It's an opening that could be filled by few more qualified economists than our president-elect himself.
If for some reason, Feldstein cannot continue, Summers should consider teaching Ec 10. It would give him needed insight into the sobering reality of the large, impersonal lecture class that is the hallmark of most students' first few years in the College. And it would allow him to interact with undergraduates in ways that President Neil L. Rudenstine rarely does.
But what if the plunging markets erode the endowment and force Summers to start intensive fundraising? Would he have to forsake his teaching duties? Probably not. Harvard and the possible Ec 10 students would know they were in good hands. Summers does, after all, have experience making money.
--Jonathan H. Esensten
The Passing of Pi Day
Some say the low turnout on Wednesday was due to similar political opposition. The date of Pi Day is based on an arbitrary choice of base 10; the holiday is thus biased against Mayans, Babylonians and binary computer systems, who all have refused to celebrate it.
Perhaps Pi Day was overshadowed by the Ides of March the next morning. The Ides are easily remembered; they have a great hero in Caesar and a great poet in William Shakespeare. Pi too has its heroes, Archimedes and Lindemann, and a poet in Dante, who in his Divine Commedy wrote eloquently about the geometer's inability to square the circle--"Qual e 'l geometra che tutto s'affige / per misurar lo cerchio, e non ritrova, / pensando, quel principio ond' elli indige..." But I don't speak Italian, and it seems that for the moment the guy who writes in English has the upper hand.
The unfortunate truth is that there never will be a National Pi Day. What Congressmen would vote for such a measure? Pi has a troubled history with legislatures; in 1897, the Indiana House of Representatives declared pi to be exactly equal to 3.2.
Pi and politics simply do not mix. There could be no grandiose pronouncements, no claims that Pi Day is as American as mom, the flag and apple pi; the ratio, after all, belongs to the world. Legislators write home about how they were tough on crime, or saved the federal linoleum subsidy; any Congressman who told his constituency about his sponsorship of Pi Day would be laughed out of office. (Unless his constituency were entirely composed of mathematicians, in which case he would be anointed king.)
But if Pi Day falls by the wayside, what then? No other common mathematical constant has such holiday potential. Euler's constant e (2.71828...) would be blocked by the arbitrary constraints of the calendar; it could be neither Feb. 71 nor Feb. 7 at 1:82 p.m. The same goes for the Golden Ratio, 1.618... There will never be an i Day, and although we will have an Aleph-0 Day, it won't come for quite some time.
So those few of us who do recognize Pi Day--and celebrate it separately from Albert Einstein's birthday, which is also March 14--will continue on our own, taking in its honor 3.14 slow drinks from a perfectly cylindrical mug. And we will imagine better times, when the whole nation (nay, the world) can join in a truly universal holiday--when 3/14 will be a day of joy for all.
--Stephen E. Sachs