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Cakes are round, Pie are square

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- NASA engineers and mathematicians in this 
high-tech city are stunned and infuriated after the Alabama state 
legislature narrowly passed a law yesterday redefining pi, a 
mathematical constant used in the aerospace industry.  The bill to 
change the value of pi to exactly three was introduced without 
fanfare by Leonard Lee Lawson (R, Crossville), and rapidly gained 
support after a letter-writing campaign by members of the Solomon 
Society, a traditional values group. Governor Guy Hunt says he will
sign it into law on Wednesday.

The law took the state's engineering community by surprise.  "It 
would have been nice if they had consulted with someone who
actually uses pi," said Marshall Bergman, a manager at the
Ballistic Missile Defense Organization.  According to Bergman, pi
is a Greek letter that signifies the ratio of the circumference of
a circle to its diameter. It is often used by engineers to 
calculate missile trajectories.

Prof. Kim Johanson, a mathematician from University of Alabama,
said that pi is a universal constant, and cannot arbitrarily be 
changed by lawmakers.  Johanson explained that pi is an irrational 
number, which means that it has an infinite number of digits after 
the decimal point and can never be known exactly.  Nevertheless,
she said, pi is precisely defined by mathematics to be "3.14159, 
plus as many more digits as you have time to calculate".

"I think that it is the mathematicians that are being irrational, 
and it is time for them to admit it," said Lawson.  "The Bible very 
clearly says in I Kings 7:23 that the alter font of Solomon's 
Temple was ten cubits across and thirty cubits in diameter, and 
that it was round in compass."

Lawson called into question the usefulness of any number that 
cannot be calculated exactly, and suggested that never knowing the 
exact answer could harm students' self-esteem.  "We need to return 
to some absolutes in our society," he said, "the Bible does not say 
that the font was thirty-something cubits.  Plain reading says 
thirty cubits. Period."

Science supports Lawson, explains Russell Humbleys, a propulsion 
technician at the Marshall Spaceflight Center who testified in 
support of the bill before the legislature in Mongtomery on
Monday. "Pi is merely an artifact of Euclidean geometry."  Humbleys 
is working on a theory which he says will prove that pi is 
determined by the geometry of three-dimensional space, which is 
assumed by physicists to be "isotropic", or the same in all 
directions.  "There are other geometries, and pi is different in 
every one of them," says Humbleys.

Scientists have arbitrarily assumed that space is Euclidean, he 
says.  He points out that a circle drawn on a spherical surface has 
a different value for the ratio of circumference to diameter. 
"Anyone with a compass, flexible ruler, and globe can see for 
themselves," suggests Humbleys, "its not exactly rocket science."

Roger Learned, a Solomon Society member who was in Montgomery to 
support the bill, agrees.  He said that pi is nothing more than an 
assumption by the mathematicians and engineers who were there to 
argue against the bill.  "These nabobs waltzed into the capital
with an arrogance that was breathtaking," Learned said.  "Their 
prefatorial deficit resulted in a polemical stance at absolute 
contraposition to the legislature's puissance."

Some education experts believe that the legislation will affect the 
way math is taught to Alabama's children. One member of the state 
school board, Lily Ponja, is anxious to get the new value of pi
into the state's math textbooks, but thinks that the old value 
should be retained as an alternative.  She said, "As far as I am 
concerned, the value of pi is only a theory, and we should be open 
to all interpretations."  She looks forward to students having the
freedom to decide for themselves what value pi should have.

Robert S. Dietz, a professor at Arizona State University who has 
followed the controversy, wrote that this is not the first time a 
state legislature has attempted to redefine the value of pi.  A 
legislator in the state of Indiana unsuccessfully attempted to
have that state set the value of pi to three.  According to Dietz, 
the lawmaker was exasperated by the calculations of a mathematician 
who carried pi to four hundred decimal places and still could not 
achieve a rational number.  Many experts are warning that this is 
just the beginning of a national battle over pi between traditional 
values supporters and the technical elite.  Solomon Society member 
Lawson agrees. "We just want to return pi to its traditional
value," he said, "which, according to the Bible, is three."