All posts by E.A. Blair

Do Sermons Belong In The Bully Pulpit Too?

Bible Versions

The Cartoons of the Day post from a couple of days ago, featured two toons highlighting the insanity of Wayne LaPierre and the NRA. The terms “conservative hypocrisy” and “Bible-thumping” were brought up in the Comments sections leading one reader to write, “I’d rather have Bible-thumpers than Democrat politicians pretending they care about the middle class.”

This prompted E.A. Blair to ask our bible-thumper whether she was aware of the first major court case to take bible study out of public schools. She wasn’t so E.A. followed up with a response which I thought deserved its own post. Here it is.



Some time ago, in the town of Edgerton, Wisconsin, it was part of the public school routine for teachers to read from the Bible to the students. There were a number of parents who did not like this practice because of the harm it might do to their children.

Where these parents Atheists? No.

Were they church-and god-and-mom-and-apple pie-hating liberals? No.

They were Catholic parents, and they feared that their children would be condemned to hell for being taught from the heretic King James Bible. Every good Catholic knew that only the Douay Bible was the guidebook to heaven, being the only translation of the original Latin bible whispered by Jesus into the ear of Saint Jerome himself. Here is what the Wisconsin Supreme Court records have to say about the parents’ petition:

They were outraged by some teachers’ practice of reading the King James version of the Bible, without comment or instruction, to pupils during school hours. As members of the Roman Catholic Church, they viewed the King James version of the Bible as an incorrect and incomplete translation. They also believed the Catholic Church was the only “infallible” interpreter of the scriptures and feared the reading of the Bible by non-authorized teachers could lead to “dangerous errors.”

Because the Edgerton school was a public school, the parents argued that the Bible readings amounted to use of state funds to support a place of worship and that the readings violated the separation of church and state.

The good Protestants on the Edgerton school board refused to accommodate the wishes of the Catholics:

Responding to the petitioners’ concerns, the school board said students were not required to remain in the school during the Bible readings, but rather were “at liberty to withdraw during such reading if they desire to do so.” They also denied that the Roman Catholic Church is the only “infallible” interpreter of the Bible, stating “that every person has the right to read the Bible and interpret it for himself.”

The board said it had the right and authority, under state law, to determine which textbooks should be used. Furthermore, it argued that the King James Bible was a valid textbook for teaching a “universal” moral code and for general instruction because the state superintendent of public instruction recommended it for use in public schools.

In other words, the Edgerton school board said that it had more authority than their own Church to decide which bible was appropriate for the papist minions of the Whore of Babylon, so the parents went to court.

These days, most godly people think that taking prayer out of schools is a fairly recent development, occurring in 1963 on the instigation of that perverted atheist Madelyn Murray O’Hair (actually, the case was brought about by Unitarian Universalist Edward Schempp; his and O’Hair’s cases were consolidated for presentation to the supreme court). This little tiff in Edgerton went to court in 1888, 75 years before Abington School District v. Schempp.

The Rock County Circuit Court ruled against the Catholic parents. The judges apparently lacked the theological prejudice bigotry acumen to know the vital difference between one version of a book and another. It was ruled that since both the Douay and King James bibles were translations of the same work, they were equivalent.

The parents appealed to a higher power; not the archbishop, but the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Two years later, in the case State ex rel Weiss v. District Board 76 Wis. 177 (1890), 3, otherwise known as the Edgerton Bible Case, the judges overruled the circuit court’s decision, concluding that it illegally united the functions of church and state. They decided that the rightful place for religious instruction was in the home or in Sunday schools, not in state-run schools where children of different cults denominations had a right to equal treatment despite their parents’ arguments over whether the Lord’s Prayer included the phrase, “for Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory” or the commandments forbade the making of graven images.1

Chief Justice Lyon’s majority opinion addressed the board’s argument that the drafters of the state Constitution did not intend to ban reading of the Bible in public schools. Lyon recounted the period and climate in which the Constitution was drafted. He suggested that the framers were eager to see the state develop and grow; therefore, the intent of the Constitution, and Article X, Section 3 in particular2, was to ensure that:

(I)n addition to the guaranties of the right of conscience and of worship in their own way, the free district school in which their children were to be, or might be, educated, were absolute common ground, where the pupils were equal, and where sectarian instruction, and with it sectarian intolerance, under which they had smarted in the old country, could never enter.

Article I, Section 18 of the Wisconsin State Constitution was also taken into consideration.3

Lyon further stated that it is “universally known” that there is a difference between the King James and the Douay (adhered to by the Roman Catholic Church) versions of the Bible in that many details representing important components of various religious sects’ canons differ. Furthermore, certain passages read at the Edgerton school suggest the divinity of Jesus Christ, predestination and eternal punishment. These ideas are not accepted by all religious sects, thereby showing Bible reading as sectarian instruction.

Justice Cassoday’s and Justice Orton’s concurring opinions4 considered whether the reading of the Bible in public school forced taxpayers to support a place of worship and addressed the issue of the separation of church and state. They agreed with the petitioners that the only use of state treasury funds, by law, must be entirely secular. They stated that many, if not most, religious sects view the reading of the Bible as a part and even the essence of worship; therefore, the practice in question is a violation of the Wisconsin and U.S. Constitutions.

The Supreme Court concluded that even though the State Department of Public Instruction recommended the King James Bible as a textbook, the issue was a question of law, not to be decided by the “learned chiefs” of educational policy. They ruled Bible reading in public schools illegal and issued a writ of mandamus, ordering the district board to end Bible reading in the Edgerton public school.

Thus, 123 years ago, Chief Justice William Lyon, along with justices Harlow Orton and John Cassoday opened the doors for throwing the deity out of Wisconsin’s public schools, condemning generations of schoolchildren to start down the long road to secularism and eternal damnation5. When Abington School District v. Schempp reached the US Supreme Court, the Edgerton Bible Case was cited as a precedent by Justice William Brennan, Jr.

</snark>However, the Edgerton Bible Case is not just about whether religious instruction in public schools where people of many different backgrounds and families are gathered for education; it is also about whether a religious model for government is possible or practical. It is also about the inevitable argument that occurs in a nation where literally thousands of sects, denominations, factions, cults and religions exist side by side. Not all of them are biblical, and of the great majority of those who are, significant numbers disagree on matters of doctrine, authority, interpretation of precepts, and, yes, which version of their holy book is the “correct” one. The same issue decided relatively peacefully in Edgerton in 1888 and Madison in 1890 had been the cause of deadly riots in Philadelphia in 1844.

Ambrose Bierce wrote that impiety could be defined as “your irreverence to my deity”; he was right. Religion is very personal, and taking it public causes problems when not everyone is on the same page. When we talk about letting the pulpit in a church run or dictate to the bully pulpit in Washington or the state capitol, we’re always faced with an unpleasant choice. Who do you want in charge? Whose doctrines should dictate national policy. Jehovah’s Witnesses? Say goodbye to blood transfusions. Christian Scientists? Ditto for all medical care. Mormons? Prohibition all over again. Scientologists? Xenu forbid! I’d rather go with the Pastafarians.

It’s long been a chestnut of US History that the Establishment Clause forbidding a national church was the product of tolerance and foresight. In the book Founding Faith: Providence, Politics and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America, author Stephen Waldman presents quite a different picture. The Congregationalists hated the Methodists, the Methodists hated the Presbyterians, the Anglicans (who became the Episcopalians to shed their royalist associations with the Church of England) hated the Baptists (who could be jailed for preaching in Virginia) and almost everyone hated the Quakers and Catholics who were lucky to have states of their own (Pennsylvania and Maryland, respectively) and Jews were not held in very high esteem, either. Waldman reports that the sentiment ran so high, that some would rather see a “Mahometan” or a “heathen” occupy public office rather than let the papists or the Puritans have the upper hand6.

<snark>So what’s going to happen when Reverent President Oral Creflo Robertson-Graham III decides to tell all the Catholic churches to get rid of all the statues of saints and paint over their stained glass windows? When all the storefront churches in all the cities across America are going to need licences to operate (and pastors could be imprisoned for preaching without a permit as in pre-Constitutional Virginia)? When, rather than the Mark of the Beast, all citizens will have to sport a cross? And if you think that’s silly, is it any worse than the talking points and conspiracy theories from Fux News and the wingnuts and the crazies and the teabaggers about the horrors (not) being inflicted upon us daily by that atheist-Muslim-socialist-fascist-commie-terrorist-pallin’-uppity President Barracks Hitler Hussein Obummer and his fat, ugly lunch-Nazi wife?

Maybe it’s a good thing that the various religious groups in this country hate each other more than they hate those of us who value freedom from religion as much as we value freedom of religion. If they ever decided to get together and settle their differences, it would be a dark day indeed. It’s almost, but not quite, enough to make one appreciate the existence of the Westboro Baptist Church.


-E.A. Blair

1. The version of the commandments in Catholic bibles contains no admonition regarding the making of “graven images”. Although I grew up in the Catholic school system, I had no idea what the term meant. When I was around five or six, I though it meant carvings on tombstones, and for a while thought that going to a cemetery would get me sent to hell. That’s no sillier than some thing other people believe will get you there.

2. Wisconsin Constitution, Article X, Section 3: “The legislature shall provide by law for the establishment of district schools, which shall be as nearly uniform as practicable; and such schools shall be free and without charge for tuition to all children between the ages of 4 and 40 years; and no sectarian instruction shall be allowed therein; but the legislature by law may, for the purpose of religious instruction outside the district schools, authorize the release of students during regular school hours.”

3. Wisconsin Constitution, Article I, Section 18: “The right of every person to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of conscience shall never be infringed; nor shall any person be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry, without consent; nor shall any control of, or interference with, the rights of conscience be permitted, or any preference be given by law to any religious establishments or modes of worship; nor shall any money be drawn from the treasury for the benefit of religious societies, or religious or theological seminaries.”

4. The opinions of Justices Orasmus Cole and David Taylor are not recorded. Whether they concurred or dissented with the majority, they did not issue written opinions. At this time, Harlow Orton was the sole Democratic justice on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

5. Because parents are too lazy to make sure that the children receive proper religious instruction at home or at their churches? Perhaps. I am constantly amused by the fact that so many people who hate, fear and mistrust the government want to give that same government stewardship of religion.

6. If you want to find the source for this information, go to your public library and get Waldman’s book. I’m not going to reread the entire thing for the sake of one endnote.


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Totem Worship In Ancient America


With Superbowl weekend upon us, make sure you read the footnotes for a full appreciation of E.A. Blair’s wonderful piece on a part of America’s long forgotten past.


There is considerable evidence that in North America, earlier, monotheistic religions had been displaced by totemic systems of worship.  This coincides with succeeding waves of migrations which overwhelmed, displaced and eventually absorbed previous indigenous populations, each of which was marked by accompanying waves of technological advancement and innovation.[1]

There can be no doubt that the old faith had been almost entirely supplanted by the closing years of the first century.[2]  Surviving records of the time are overwhelmed with news related to the rituals of the tribal priest – warriors, with major sections of chronicles devoted to such accounts, while little is ever mentioned about forms of worship previously dominant.  This also marks the rise of male-dominated households.  Prior to this period, women managed home life and were responsible for the religious training and welfare of succeeding generations, while the men left the household to perform the tasks of labor and trade in support of the family economy.  This female-dominated society was an idyllic time of peace and tranquility which in later years was viewed with a heavily romanticized nostalgia.

This was replaced by a culture in which women began leaving the home to assist in the family labor, while the main sources of religious education in the home fell almost exclusively under male domination.[3]  The totemic religions which arose were centered on a cycle of seasonal death and rebirth in which the totem creature was considered to have died in autumn or winter and miraculously reborn in spring.[4]  The manifestations of these totems showed considerable regional variations, with local cults dominant near their centers of worship but seldom exclusively so.

The liturgical calendar began in spring, with a period of preparation, followed by a long series of rituals representing the ordeal of maturing.  This culminated in a frenzied celebration in mid-autumn; as this approached, the priest-warriors of the mature phase of the god began preparing for the post-autumn rites culminating in the death of the god.  There is also evidence that a ritualized “Battle at the End of the World” took place, accompanied by great feasting with the food served in sacred vessels.[5]  These feasts were tumultuous social occasions, with an abundance of grain and dairy products, potent beverages and animals sacrificed over sacred fires.  These meals were accompanied by animal sounds and gestures among the men in imitations of the animal represented by the local god.

Most of these gatherings were strictly segregated by gender, with women relegated to separate rooms or left to gather together to celebrate Female Mysteries.  While the spring rites were more open to women as worshipers, the fall rituals were much more a male province.  At that time, unlike earlier, all priests were men.

A typical example of primitive American totem worship is the Midwestern bear-cult centered on an ancient settlement in the southern Great Lakes region.[6]  Born in the spring as a cub, it matured to a bear in the fall, only to die and be reborn.  Surviving contemporary records clearly show that the exact date of the bear-god’s death was not fixed, and could occur anywhere from shortly after the autumn equinox until the first new moon after the Winter Solstice.  These chronicles definitely declare that in some years the bear died shortly after the Equinox.  Such early deaths were considered an omen of a bad season to come.  In particularly grim years, worship focused on sacred cattle until the bear’s rebirth in spring when the people reluctantly returned to the practices of the bear-cult.  Lively religious debates took place among men both in private and public, punctuated by ritual gestures and greetings.[7]

Many variations on this myth existed in other regions.  Further east a tiger-god metamorphosed into a lion sacrificed in winter.  A variant cult from the far west focused on spiritual guides or messengers which transformed into avenging warriors or domestic birds (providers of eggs, a fertility symbol) perhaps in response to conditions of war or peace with neighboring tribes.[8]

The totem-gods were arranged in four major and several lesser families with each god locked in an eternal struggle for domination of his pantheon.  The priest-warriors of the lesser pantheons were sometimes elevated to the service of the greater gods before they, in their turn, became sacrifices themselves.  Few priests ever served in more than one pantheon in their lifetimes.  In cases where a settlement lacked a local temple devoted to one or the other of the families of gods, religious allegiances formed along tribal boundaries.  When two temples of the same pantheon existed in proximity,violent holy wars often broke out among the worshipers.

There are still many unanswered questions regarding this era of ancient history.  For example, centers of worship appear to have disappeared entirely from a region at the end of a season, temple and all, only to reappear half a continent or more away, with no loss of fervor among the adherents.  Some scholars have suggested that such miracles are evidence of divine disfavor, although the settlements so affected appear to have suffered no other harm.  Others insist that the sort of engineering required was only possible with extraterrestrial aid.  One fragmentary contemporary report claims that a powerful wizard once moved a temple over a great distance overnight, but this is a matter of skepticism and debate.  Much more credible is a recently proposed theory that the inhabitants of some settlements built unused temples in hopes of attracting a god’s favor.

The actual facts remain the object of continued study and rediscovery.  We can be thankful that we live in an enlightened, less violent age.


1 Thus, in discussing the period, we speak of the Bicycle People, the Automobile People, the Refrigerator People and the Washing Machine People, each of which themselves had many subcultures within them.

2 That is first century F.E. (Ford Era, named for the legendary king reputed to have been the founder of the First Industrial Age).

3 Surviving records indicate a gender-based struggle for something called a “Remote Control”.  The etymology of this term is uncertain;  Some think that it may refer to a magical talisman or image of a household god.  The social backlash to this schism was the most significant step in the collapse of the First Industrial Age and the establishment of the Monogenderist Momarchies under which population levels declined to disastrous levels.

4 Parallel to the totem religions was a religious oddity: a male fertility cult obsessed with the worship of a “Triple Goddess” who passed through three life stages:  Waif, Supermodel and Star.  This represents an elevation to the status of sky goddess.

5 Some sources suggest that the foods were all mixed together in sacred pottery referred to as a “super bowl”.

6 The reconstructed local pronunciation, “Sh’cargo”, indicated evidence that the area’s first settlers were members of a Cargo Cult, worshiping the artifacts of advanced societies as sources of magical power.

7 E.g.: “How ’bout dem bears?”

8 Many totems were taken from animals presumed to have been part of the local wildlife (e.g., bears, rams) or as sacred temple mascots not usually native to the area (e.g., tigers, bengals).  Others appear to have been deified tribal names (e.g., braves, redskins), but a whole host of names (e.g. packers, mets, supersonics) still defy translation or interpretation.


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Election Inspector – Voting For Justice

“There are over five thousand people in this city
who know that being an inspector is an endless, glamorless,
thankless job that’s gotta be done. I know it, too.
And I’m damned glad to be one of them.”

~Joe Friday E.A. Blair

Guest author, E.A. Blair, looks ahead to Voting Day and his time on the front lines as a Wisconsin election inspector.


“The story you are about to read is true. The names have not been changed in order to implicate the guilty.”

“This is the precinct. District 3, Ward 138. I work here. I carry a badge. My name’s Blair.

It was Tuesday, November 6. It was cloudy and cool in the city. I was working voter check-in when they came. They were shifty, nervous, and they had badges of their own that said “Election Observer”. They had notebooks and pens and took a lot of notes. They eyed the voters like a butcher sizing up a side of beef, like a tiger ready to pounce. But instead of claws and teeth, they were armed with challenges and misinformation, seeking not to kill but to disrupt and delay. They signed in as “Concerned Citizen” but were silent about their concerns. At the slightest provocation, it was part of my job to send them packing. If I had to, I could call for backup. The polls had only been open for an hour, and voters had been lined up for two. The “Observers” were making them nervous. It was going to be a long day.

Dum-da-dumdum! Dum-da-dumdum-dum!

Prologue:  There are only a couple of days left before the Big Day. While most people are looking forward to the day after, when the ads, the knocks on the door, the robocalls and the endless wrangling over who’s a bigger liar will finally come to a brief end (until the 2014 midterm elections), I am concentrating on the days leading up to the election, maintaining my sanity by not answering the phone unless the caller ID shows someone I know. There is a sign on my door telling people that I’ve already voted (I haven’t) and to go away:

If You Are Here About The Election:
I Voted Early
You’re Too Late
You Can’t Change My Mind
Don’t Leave Literature
Go Annoy Someone Else

There is another sign showing my politics:

But my real concerns come from the fact that I work at my local ward as an elections inspector. The job that I and the others in my crew have is to set up and operate the polls on election day and to do everything we can to make sure that everyone who wants to cast a vote gets a reasonable chance. Our day starts at 6:00; voting takes place from 7:00 to 8:00 PM and the final tabulation and securing the ballots for transport to City Hall takes another hour and a half. Working the full shift means a fifteen-and-a-half hour day. If it’s busy, as presidential elections usually are, there’s no time to take a lunch break. By the time I get home, I’m barely able to function, much less watch the returns on the news. I’m more involved in the preparation work than everyone else in my crew except the Chief Inspector, mainly because I live less than a block from the school where Ward 138 votes. I do the location scouting and smooth things over with the school staff. If I get a call from my Chief asking me to check on some detail or other, the school is a two minute walk from my door.

The Players:  This year, at least two groups have targeted Wisconsin for an attempt at voter interference. Posing as election observers, they are being instructed to insert themselves into the voting process with the intent to disrupt.

One of these groups is called True The Vote. Based in Texas, it is an offshoot of the King Street Patriots, a tea-party group. They present themselves as a non-profit 501©)3 charitable organization, but are engaged in lobbying for voter ID laws and supporting conservative candidates. They have inserted themselves into Wisconsin politics before. During the summer gubernatorial recall election, True The Vote ran Verify The Recall, supposedly a volunteer effort to verify signatures on the recall petitions but, in reality, an attempt to challenge and invalidate enough signatures to nullify the recall effort.

The other group is backed by the Romney campaign, part of a multi-state effort called Project ORCA. They have held a series of training sessions for election observers and have been omits a number of acceptable forms. Copies of the PowerPoint slides that Project ORCA used in Wisconsin have been posted online.

Means:  Wisconsin law allows anyone except a candidate appearing on the ballot to be an election observer. They can be affiliated with a political party, a campaign, a citizens’ group, or be just an election junkie. They could even be a homeless person looking for a warm place to sit for the day. They are allowed to watch and make notes, and do not have to register or get a permit; all that is required is that they identify themselves as observers to the Chief Inspector. They may not insert themselves into the election process unless a voter asks one to assist in casting their vote. They may, however, challenge any person’s eligibility to vote, which then requires that the voter produce proof of residence.

Motive:  So why are these “concerned citizens” here? While they cannot engage in electioneering or overt intimidation, there are other ways they can disrupt the process.

Voter Challenges:  If a voter’s eligibility is challenged, that person is then required to produce proof of residence in accordance with state law. Lacking that, the voter may either go home to get the necessary documents and return or may cast a provisional ballot, requiring them to present their proof at City Hall within five days. Why do this? It cause delays, delays that may discourage people waiting in line and reducing the time available to process more voters while the challenge is resolved. More delays means fewer votes cast.

Covert Intimidation:  There are a number of tactics that observers can use to intimidate voters while remaining within the letter of the law. Inside the polling area, standing too close to the voting booths, taking notes while observing individuals and, of course, challenging voters are all things that can be done to intimidate and disrupt.

Opportunity:  Outside the polling area, observers may try to misrepresent themselves in a semi-official capacity to people waiting in line and bring up matters of eligibility or ID and suggest that a person is not able to vote. Other ways include taking pictures of people in parking lots, entering and leaving the building and waiting in line.

Countermeasures:  I have been in communication with my Chief Inspector and we’re planning a briefing session for the entire crew before we set up the polls. All the inspectors will be warned to keep an eye out for misconduct by observers. We don’t have the authority to restrain anyone, but we can instruct them to leave or try to prevent them from entering or re-entering. If necessary, the Chief can call a mobile supervisor. If the supervisor deems it appropriate, a police officer can be sent to the ward to maintain order. We are also posting signs in the waiting area asking people to report any attempts to interfere with the voting process. It’s going to be an interesting day, even if only in the Chinese sense.

Epilogue:  On November 6, trial was held in Ward 138, District three of the City of Milwaukee. In a moment, the results of that trial.

Commercial Break: Voting In Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, voters mark paper ballets with a #2 pencil then feed them through an Opt-Tech scanner to tabulate the votes. The paper ballots are retained in a locked compartments and are stored for ten years against the possibility of recounts, lawsuits and other investigations. This is a portion of the 2012 Wisconsin ballot:

Voters mark the ballot by connecting the two ends of the arrow with a straight line. The scanner rejects ballots that are improperly marked (e.g., two votes for the same office, stray marks). Voters have two chances to redo a rejected ballot. In the event of irregularities, the paper ballots preserve a record of the vote that is available for hand inspection. Hanging chads are not an option.

Write-in votes are accomplished by filling in the name of the candidate on the line at the bottom of the column and completing the arrow for that section.

Epilogue (Continued):  The suspect was found guilty of severe fatigue and a tendency to get cranky. He was remanded to the custody of his cat and sentenced to eight to ten hours of bed rest and avoiding watching election returns.

E.A. Blair: Now serving his sentence under house arrest.


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Runaway Meme – a Pre-Internet Saga in Four Parts

HitchHiker's Guide to the Galaxy   :

The instant I came across the following story, I knew it needed a permanent home or risk having it “lost to history.” So here it is, a most delightful tale of the birth of a meme from E.A. Blair.  ~mario


Prologue: Memes are, of course, those little bits of popular culture that seem to come out of nowhere, become all the rage, then recede to the back of the collective consciousness only to resurface from time to time – a non-audible earworm.  Some, are more enduring than others – LOLcats may never die, but, thankfully, goatse is all but gone.  Sometimes they seem to arise spontaneously from everywhere at once, and, like urban legends, few seem to have identifiable sources.  In his recent posting I Was Robbed by President Obama!, Mario lays claim to the “Romney Hood” meme, and he makes a good case for it.  Like him, I’m quite certain that I was the source of a meme as well, but all you have is my word for it.

Fit The First: Back in 1986, I was working for a small computer programming firm, and for most of our in-house production work, we used a computer language called FORTH.  One of the features of FORTH was that you could change the number base on the fly, so you could go from base 10 to binary to hex or even to odd things like base 7 or base 19 or even base 184.  In essence, you were only limited by the number of characters that could be used as digits.

Fit The Second: At the same time, the local PBS station was screening the BBC TV version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which I watched avidly. As many people know, one of the focal points of the story, whether in the original radio show, the book or the television series is that the answer to the ultimate question is “42″, but nobody knew the question.  The question is finally revealed in the final episode of the shows or the end of the second book (The Restaurant at the End of the Universe) when Arthur Dent’s Scrabble tiles spell out “What do you get when you multiply six by nine?”

I pause while you calculate the result of 6×9.

Fit The Third: One of my co-workers had also read the book, but not seen the series, and we occasionally discussed it over work.  One day when I had an idle moment, I wondered if that equation would work out in another number base, so, I used FORTH to play around with it.  I knew it would have to be somewhere between 10 and sixteen;  I tried base 11; the answer was 4A, went on to base 12 and got 46 (closer!), but when I got to base 13, lo and behold, found out that when you multiplied six by nine in base 13, you did get 42!

Fit The Fourth: I mentioned this to my co-worker and a few friends who were fans of the book and frequent science fiction convention attendees; apparently, word spread from there.  It had to be by word of mouth, since the internet was still ARPANET, off limits to the rabble.  Eventually, Douglas Adams himself heard about it and thought it was ridiculous.  He said, “I may be a sorry case, but I don’t write jokes in base 13.”

Epilogue:  In my defense, I never tried to attach any cosmic significance to it – I just passed it off as a really, really interesting coincidence.  My attitude was along the lines of, “Hey, who knew you could actually get it to work?”  I also readily admit that I may not be the only person who discovered it (although the job is much harder without access to FORTH or a similar tool). However, the meme has made it onto the web, but my own claim to have been its discoverer (which predates the internet) has been lost to history.

Creative and imaginative people are no strangers to having other people usurp some of our greatest and most innovative achievements, but we still have the satisfaction of knowing both that we were there first and that there will always be a small circle of friends who will believe us.

E.A. Blair is the nom de commenter of someone who has been a teacher, game designer, programmer, logistic support officer and technical writer at various times in his life.  Most of the hits in a search on his real name predate the internet; it appears exactly four times in Wikipedia. The entry for Phrases from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is not one of the places.


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