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From Frisbie Pi to Pluto Platter
March 6, 2009 7:50 AM   Subscribe

In 1897, the Indiana House of Representatives passed a bill mandating that the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle (pi) was 3.2. Now, 112 years later, their neighbors in the Illinois Senate have passed a resolution redefining Pluto as a planet, at least when it passes through the Illinois night sky. Of course, Pluto may not even travel through the Illinois night sky for some time.
posted by grouse (59 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Typical plutocrats...
posted by Pastabagel at 7:55 AM on March 6, 2009 [21 favorites]


Of course, when it's passing over the Chicago sky, we call it Plutowski.
posted by eriko at 7:57 AM on March 6, 2009


Copycats
posted by wobumingbai at 7:59 AM on March 6, 2009


I agree with Illinois, Pluto is a Planet!, and I'm not afriad who knows it.
posted by Argyle at 8:00 AM on March 6, 2009


This law sounds kinda mickey mouse.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:03 AM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


These are fundamentally different issues. The idea of what is or is not a planet is an entirely human one. The ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle is not. Why is it more ridiculous for a group in Illinois to define the term than for a group in....Switzerland?....to do so?

That said: Pluto is not a planet.
posted by DU at 8:04 AM on March 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


I love stupidity, especially aggressive stupidity. And there's so much of it.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:05 AM on March 6, 2009 [6 favorites]


Of course, when it's passing over the Chicago sky, we call it Plutowski.

when it passes over Astoria, it's Plutopoulos.
posted by jonmc at 8:06 AM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Politicians need to stop legislating science. This, while blatantly stupid, isn't the dumbest shit they've tried to do.
posted by kldickson at 8:07 AM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


As a resident of the State of Illinois, I would like to apologize for our elected officials.

Sorry. Again.
posted by Bummus at 8:08 AM on March 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Seems goofy to me.

(ducking)
posted by dbgrady at 8:08 AM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is the Illinois Senate. Given what has been happening there lately, I must ask: don't you kids have something better to do? *points at garage meaningfully*
posted by adipocere at 8:10 AM on March 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


Given what they insist on calling a pizza, this doesn't surprise me at all.
posted by bondcliff at 8:10 AM on March 6, 2009 [5 favorites]


Ugh, Blazecock Pileon beat me to it.
posted by dbgrady at 8:12 AM on March 6, 2009


I will drive hours and waste many dollars just to observe Pluto over Illinois and violate this law. Violate the hell out of it.
posted by Science! at 8:12 AM on March 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


For a second back there, I thought they had recently declared it to be 3.2. I was this close to flipping out.
posted by Xere at 8:26 AM on March 6, 2009


What are the other large Oort objects in Illinois? Can they now apply for planet-status? If Pluto gets to be a planet, we'll all be planets! It'll be anarchy!
posted by steef at 8:27 AM on March 6, 2009


Oort cloud objects are ruining the traditional institution of planetism. Also, the next step will be declaring box turtles as planets.
posted by DU at 8:35 AM on March 6, 2009 [4 favorites]


When I was a kid, I had a talking Mork doll (as in Mork & Mindy). Like with all other talking dolls, he eventually got stuck on one phrase, and it always came out sped-up and garbled: "Don't ever go to Pluto, it's a Mickey Mouse planet."

I don't really have anything else to add here.
posted by mudpuppie at 8:37 AM on March 6, 2009


Politicians need to stop legislating science.

There's nothing scientific about redefining Pluto to be not a planet. There's no theory there. There's no drawing out of observable consequences of that theory. There's no testing that theory.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:37 AM on March 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Oort Oort Oort
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 8:39 AM on March 6, 2009


mudpuppie: "When I was a kid, I had a talking Mork doll (as in Mork & Mindy). Like with all other talking dolls, he eventually got stuck on one phrase, and it always came out sped-up and garbled: "Don't ever go to Pluto, it's a Mickey Mouse planet."

I don't really have anything else to add here.
"

Heh. Mork & Mindy used to be on Nick at Nite when I was a kid, but my parents wouldn't let me stay up to watch it.
posted by Science! at 8:40 AM on March 6, 2009


Can they now apply for planet-status?

Yes -- this is going to be the next big thing in Illinois political corruption. Donate enough money to our re-election campaign and well appoint you to the Senate to planetary status.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:41 AM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


As a resident of the State of Illinois, I would like to apologize for our elected officials.

There's no need to apologize-- the headline is mean, condescending, and wrong. Pluto has been determined by the IAU to be a "dwarf planet". The popular definition of "planet" may indeed include "dwarf planet". There's no scientific reason why it shouldn't.
posted by shii at 8:43 AM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


In other news, Peoria has decided that gerbils are amphibians.
posted by brundlefly at 8:43 AM on March 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Oh, I see why you were so specific. At first I thought 3.2 had made it into law.

Which would've been awesomely crazy.

Was there one or two constituents with a stick up their butts that pushed for action on this?
posted by graventy at 8:43 AM on March 6, 2009


I guess those Illinois Nazis won their court case.
posted by crapmatic at 8:45 AM on March 6, 2009


Was there one or two constituents with a stick up their butts that pushed for action on this?

You're thinking of Uranus.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:00 AM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Interesting. Though the claim about Alabama changing Pi is crap, the claim about Indiana seems to be valid. Even though the bill died in the Senate.

I wonder why the urban legend didn't just use Indiana to begin with and keep at least a half-truth? For some reason, the internets desired a TOTAL lie.

Once again, interesting.
posted by mr_book at 9:02 AM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


No wonder I failed calculus in college.
posted by sciurus at 9:03 AM on March 6, 2009


Is there nothing our esteemed politicians can't accomplish for us with nothing but their good intentions to guide them?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:12 AM on March 6, 2009


My son is 5.5 years old, and he has known for at least a year about the Pluto controversy. He will patiently explain, to anyone who asks, that Pluto was once considered a planet, but no longer. My point is that 5-year-old boys who like astronomy are awesome to talk with.
posted by Mister_A at 9:15 AM on March 6, 2009 [10 favorites]


Pluto is a Planet!
posted by Navelgazer at 9:33 AM on March 6, 2009


You know what else some people think is 3.2 that isn't?


Beer.
posted by louche mustachio at 9:35 AM on March 6, 2009 [5 favorites]


Pluto musta paid a shit-load of money to get that bill passed. They're not gonna fuckin' hand these things out to just any ball of ice!
posted by orme at 9:51 AM on March 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


God forbid that arbitrary distinctions between space rocks and gasballs be made more slightly more arbitrary!

The idea that there is some universal ideal of a "planet" and that Pluto just couldn't possibly qualify is absurd. There's no practical change in thinking that would be required in order to consider Pluto a planet. It's not like thinking π is 3.2 or something at all.

It's more like the difference between cars and SUVs, an arbitrary distinction that's totally irrelevant to anything practical (there are plenty of cars that get worse gas mileage then hybrid SUVs, for example)

So I say Pluto is a planet and that Neil de Grasse Tyson is just an egomaniac. he's the Jim Cramer of Astronomy!

TEACH THE CONTROVERSY!
posted by delmoi at 9:53 AM on March 6, 2009


Given what they insist on calling a pizza, this doesn't surprise me at all.

Thems fighin' words!
posted by Bonzai at 9:57 AM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


You know what else some people think is 3.2 that isn't?


Beer.



Shhh!!!! Now they'll try to change the beer! Nice going, Mustachio!
posted by mr_book at 10:04 AM on March 6, 2009


So I say Pluto is a planet and that Neil de Grasse Tyson is just an egomaniac. he's the Jim Cramer of Astronomy!

The best thing about Neil de Grasse Tyson's Pluto book is that at the end is a whole swathe of hate mail. From third graders. The best one...I have to paraphrase, but it was something like:

"Dear Scientist, I don't think you should make Pluto not be a planet anymore. It's mean. Do people live on Pluto? If people live on Pluto and it's not a planet they won't be alive anymore. Pluto has to be a planet because I think it's a planet. Please write back but not in cursive because I can't read cursive anymore. Your friend, Sophie".
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 10:08 AM on March 6, 2009 [5 favorites]


Pluto's a planet, now? He must have really let himself go.

Lay off the Alpo, Pluto!
posted by dirigibleman at 11:00 AM on March 6, 2009


I was at a post office in the late 70s and this hunched over man came up to the counter asking for a package for Clyde Tombaugh. I said, I know that name from somewhere. He gave an evil grin. Because of that brief encounter, I feel honor bound to defend Pluto's position as a planet.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:50 AM on March 6, 2009


When describing Solomon's Temple and its fixtures, Scripture tells of a great basin cast of molten brass "ten cubits from the one brim to the other: it was round all about, . . . and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about" (I Kings 7:23).
Look on My value of pi and weep, heathens. It is and will always be 3. Even the Illinois legislature has no power over the will of G@D!!!!
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:16 PM on March 6, 2009


BTW, I wonder what the braintrust in the Illinois legislature would think of the exhibit at the Adler Planetarium that explain exactly why Pluto might be considered a planet and why you might consider it one, refusing to take an "exact" position, but explaining it intelligently.

Thank God all of my state isn't as insane as our representatives in Springfield.

This reminds me of when we, in order to teach us about democracy, voted for the state fish in elementary school. Last place in our school: Blue gill. State fish according to the rest of Illinois youngsters: Blue gill. This was the first time I learned that Cook County and Chicago had a bigger voice than the rest of the state. Dumb kids in Chicago didn't know anything about "real fish." Nobody wants to catch a blue gill.

(I was the campaign manager for the catfish. I made a kid in our group dress up in a catfish costume we made from butcher paper. After this, internal polling within the school swung our direction and we swept, I think, every grade.)

Of course, now, as a liberal gay man living in Chicago, I couldn't be happier that Chicago has a bigger voice.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:20 PM on March 6, 2009


If you're in the Denver/Boulder area, you can see Dwarf Planets live tomorrow.
posted by lukemeister at 2:47 PM on March 6, 2009


Those people must have their head up uranus.
posted by mike3k at 3:04 PM on March 6, 2009


When it passes over Louisiana, it's Pluteaux.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 3:23 PM on March 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


“The popular definition of "planet" may indeed include "dwarf planet”

Pluto’s beard and the orbital axe are a dead giveaway.

“Given what they insist on calling a pizza, this doesn't surprise me at all.”

Yo, it doesn’t work without Pluto, smart ass: My very excellent mother just served us nine…uh…

But yeah, our legislators have a lot of time on their hands. It’s not like there’s not a lot going on just now. *facepalm*
posted by Smedleyman at 3:53 PM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


1 Kings 3:12 - "I [God] have given thee [Solomon] a wise and an understanding heart; so that there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee." Thus, Solomon was wise and understanding beyond anyone before or after according to God.

1 Kings 7:23 - "And he [Solomon] made a molten sea, ten cubits from the one brim to the other: it was round all about, and his height was five cubits: and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about." Thus, Pi = 3 according to Solomon.

Matthew 5:18 - "For assuredly, I [Jesus] say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled." Thus, 1 Kings 7:23 is correct according to Jesus.

John 10:30- "I [Jesus] and the Father [God] are one." Thus, God confirms that Jesus confirms that Solomon confirms that pi = 3.

1 Corinthians 1:27 "God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise." Thus... wait a minute, you've been pulling my leg for thousands of years! Enough of that religion business. Sheesh.
posted by eccnineten at 5:48 PM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Section 1

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Indiana: It has been found that a circular area is to the square on a line equal to the quadrant of the circumference, as the area of an equilateral rectangle is to the square on one side. The diameter employed as the linear unit according to the present rule in computing the circle's area is entirely wrong, as it represents the circle's area one and one-fifth times the area of a square whose perimeter is equal to the circumference of the circle. This is because one fifth of the diameter fails to be represented four times in the circle's circumference. For example: if we multiply the perimeter of a square by one-fourth of any line one-fifth greater than one side, we can in like manner make the square's area to appear one-fifth greater than the fact, as is done by taking the diameter for the linear unit instead of the quadrant of the circle's circumference.

Section 2

The 4-equidistant Time points can be considered as Time Square imprinted upon the circle of Earth. In a single rotation of the Earth sphere, each Time corner point rotates through
the other 3-corner Time points, thus creating 16 corners, 96 hours and 4-simultaneous 24 hour Days within a single rotation of Earth - equated to a Higher Order of Life Time Cube.
Ignorance of the Time Cube is evil.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 5:59 PM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Given that this is Illinois, I can only assume that the legislators were concerned that if Pluto were no longer a planet, suddenly votes from Pluto would be regarded as suspicious.
posted by klangklangston at 7:20 PM on March 6, 2009


Be grateful. Stuff like this keeps them away from other areas where they could do real damage.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:22 PM on March 6, 2009


Smedleyman: My very excellent mnemonic just seems useless now. (Phooey.)

Stolen from somebody on usenet, I think
posted by hattifattener at 7:47 PM on March 6, 2009


This is silly, but it's not as dangerously stupid as trying to legislate the ratio of a circle's diameter to its circumference.

The names of the planets, along with whether they are or are not "planets", are inherently arbitrary. We seem to mostly have agreed on a set of them for the sake of convenience, but I assume other civilizations throughout history had different names for the planets they were aware of, and had they been aware of the body we call "Pluto", they would certainly have called it something else. They wouldn't be wrong, in any objective sense, for doing so.

So if Illinois wants to create a different standard for "planet" than the rest of the world, in order so that it might contain the object commonly called "Pluto", fine. Their decision to do so puts them out of sync with the rest of the world, and probably will be something of a disadvantage to students coming from Illinois and studying in the rest of the world, albeit admittedly a minor one, but it's not objectively incorrect.

I'll save my rage for when politicians actually try to legislate, or even make it clear that they believe, things that are demonstrably, objectively wrong. Like, say, the Earth only being a few thousand years old, or Adam and Eve riding around on dinosaurs. This Pluto thing doesn't even wiggle the needle on the stupid-politician meter.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:08 PM on March 6, 2009


OK. I'm a little sick of the constant repetition of the idea that whether or not Pluto is called a planet is a completely arbitrary choice. It isn't.

Yes, technically, both the definition and the use of the word "planet" are arbitrary, as are the definitions and uses of any word, and we could call them "willirumpkins" if we wanted or include earth, mars, and the dust bunnies under your bed in the definition of planet if we so chose. But that doesn't mean there's no *reason* for excluding the dust bunnies from the definition and, for that matter, Pluto.

Words have limited agreed-upon meanings because that makes language useful. Pluto was originally classified as a planet by accident, and numerous Pluto-like objects have been discovered since which no one -- *no one* -- calls planets.

Why not? Well, Pluto formed differently from every single other object we call a planet. Every single other planet was formed in a circumstellar disk around the sun when it was a protostar. Pluto was not. How do we know? It has a different orbital path from every solar system planet. It orbits at a different angle from every solar system planet, breaking out of the plane all the actual planets lie in.

So it formed differently, at a different time, in a different way, and behaves differently from every single other freakin' object we have chosen to call a planet. However, there are other bodies called Kuiper Belt Objects, and guess what? Pluto was formed at the same time as them, in the same way, and behaves in the exact same manner as every other body we have chosen to call a Kuiper Belt Object.

So calling Pluto a planet makes a useful word blurry. It's like saying, every hot tub is a hot tub, except this one giraffe we call a hot tub because we've always called Ernie here a hot tub. It makes people who know what they're doing wonder if they have to call other giraffes hot tubs as well, and if people are going to end up with a giraffe if they try to buy a hot tub, and causes headaches for everyone.

Pluto is not a planet by any useful definition of the word. You were taught wrong. The end. I don't understand why so many people are so emotionally attached to the idea that everything they learned in third grade will be true for all time, but things change as more information comes to light. Why is that so hard to accept?
posted by kyrademon at 9:49 PM on March 6, 2009 [12 favorites]


"This Pluto thing doesn't even wiggle the needle on the stupid-politician meter."

Well, not in Illinois, no. But we've been setting the bar pretty high lately. Generally speaking. After we elected that bookie SOB (yeah, Blago used to be a bookie, all the street guys know it.)
posted by Smedleyman at 12:36 AM on March 7, 2009


So calling Pluto a planet makes a useful word blurry.

Any concept like "planet" that centers on the bigness or importance of the object in question is always, inherently, going to be blurry.

This thing bothers me for two reasons.

One, it seems to me a spectacularly self-important act on the part of an academic society to issue a formal definition by vote, in the obvious expectation that society is going to go along with it. If APSA decided to issue a formal definition of "political party" that excluded organizations that had long been popularly considered to be parties, because they were annoyed that people called them parties, that would be similarly annoyingly self-important.

Two, it has no useful purpose. It achieves nothing, except to browbeat third grade science teachers. Academic astronomers have always been free to exclude Pluto from their theories of planetary formation, or to include it, Eres, and Ceres. At worst, dealing with this situation requires only a single word. If Jane Smith first put forward the idea that Pluto should not be considered a planet because of its orbital plane, and so on, then you can clarify the issue with absolute 100% certainty by simply referring to "Smithian planets" when you mean to exclude Pluto or similar objects. This also has the benefit of preserving the citation of whoever brought forward the concept.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:01 AM on March 7, 2009


Never Forget!
posted by jfrancis at 11:40 AM on March 7, 2009


I don't think the current definition of "planet" will last very long, but whatever replaces it won't include Pluto either. The evidence that Pluto is a member of a large class of similar objects, rather than a unique oddity at the edge of the solar system, is information that didn't exist ten years ago. The language we use to describe things evolves with our understanding of those things; this is a much more important lesson for (current and former) third graders than "our solar system has eight planets."

Insisting on the word "planet" to describe the gas giants, the terrestrial planets, the minor planets, and the dwarf planets is like insisting on "bear" to describe brown bears, grizzly bears, koala bears, and panda bears. People used to use this language, but there were good reasons to stop and it's mostly died out now.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 11:45 AM on March 7, 2009


ROU_Xenophobe --

Let's say there's a society that, for a while, has known about only one kind of fruit, the apple. A few years ago, there were eight different varieties of apples that they knew about.

One day, someone discovers on the ground an orange fruit with a rough, thick, inedible skin. It's pretty weird, but having no other reference point, they call it a "navel apple" and consider it a ninth variety.

A few years after that, however, they find out that this other fruit comes from an entirely different kind of tree, unlike any other "apple". They discover a whole bunch of varieties of it, and everyone acknowledges that these are essentially different fruit, and starts calling them "oranges". They find mandarin oranges, and and valencia oranges, and a whole bunch of others. Soon after, they find even more fruits that grow on different trees, and give them different names like pears and peaches, each with their own varieties.

But all this time, most people out of habit call that first new fruit a "navel apple".

Now, it's true that the Fruit Growers Association could come up with their own nomenclature and refer to "Smithian apples" that do not include the navel apple and "Nonsmithian apples" which do (although no one would ever bother to write about "Nonsmithian apples" because there's no point.)

Or, at some point, they could simply say, "It's an orange, dammit, and from now on we're going to call it an orange like every other orange. 'Apple' doesn't refer to every fruit anymore, if it ever did, and it's silly to make this one exception."

I guess I don't understand
1) Why anyone cares
2) What's wrong with the second option, which frankly makes a lot more sense and is easier to use
3) Why this leads to endless internet debate essentially saying that calling the navel orange an apple is a sacred tradition which cannot be changed and how presumptuous the Fruit Growers Association is and how it's entirely definitional and in my heart, the navel orange will always be an apple
4) Why people can't find a new stupid mnemonic to replace Go Find Heather Before Justin Pays A Real Nickel (Gala Fuji Honeycrisp Braeburn Jonagold Pinklady Ambrosia Rome Navel)
posted by kyrademon at 1:36 PM on March 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


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