I am one of President George W. Bush's gardeners. Mr. George likes to talk to me.

Monday, May 31, 2004

Legislating Math

Mr. George often comes up to me and asks questions while I'm working in the White House garden. Usually, he asks me about what kind of fertilizer I use, and why I don't use more chemicals to really kill the insects. But sometimes he asks me questions about astronomy, geology, or math. Just the other day he wanted to know what it means to square a number. Why square?

"Well, it works like this, Mr. George," I said, making four dots in the ground with my walking stick. "You see these four dots? Let's say you want to square the number 4. So what you do is you create a bigger square by repeating the number 4." I then drew three more sets of four dots to create a larger square.

"So 4 squared is 16. See the 16 dots in the bigger square?"

"So what does "square root" mean?

"Simple. If you want to take the square root of the number 16, you go back to the number that you had to make the bigger square from." I then drew a circle around the first set of four dots that I drew.

"Oh, I see. So the square root of 16 is 4." Mr. George then grabbed my stick. I was nervous that he was going to ask about cubing numbers, so I thought about stacking dirt clods to convey a 3D model, but Mr. George veered off in a different direction. He poked the ground to make a single dot. "Just to get this straight, the number 1 squared is 4, and the square root of 4 is 1."

"No, Mr. George. This model doesn't really work for the numbers 0, 1, and 2. Or negative numbers."

"Why not? It should."

"But it doesn't."

"Is that some of that fancy nuance the liberal media is talking about?"

"I don't know."

"Well, I'm going to fix this. I'm going to make a law that says the number 1 squared is 4, and that the square root of 4 is 1. It works better that way. It just does." He pointed my stick at the ground.

"You can't make a law about that," I said.

"Yes I can," he said. He was talking loudly and waving around the little stick. "I can add an amendment to the Constitution. We'll call it the Nineteenth Amendment. That's my job. It's what I do."

"But then all the math books would be wrong. It'll cost too much money for schools to update their books."

"Not if I make a federal law that requires every state to come up with the money to pay for new books. Just trust me."

I asked Mr. George if I could have my stick back, but he was too deep in thought.


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