Friday, October 17, 2008

The Ten Commandments and the Well Ordering Principle

When I was a kid (and all through my life, really,) my mother would periodically tell me to:

"remember the fourth commandment, the only commandment with a promise. --Honor your father and mother, that it will go well with you."

I was reminded of this last night while reading Sarah Vowell 'The Wordy Shipmates.' There is a part in this book where she's talking about how, for the puritans, this commandment applied not just literally to your parents but also to figures of authority (governments and such.) The only thing is that she calls it the fifth commandment.

So, excited at the chance to play scholar, I went to my bible and looked it up. And, sure enough, it was the fourth. So then I went and asked around the house, and somebody had another bible, and that one had it as the fourth too. The thing is, though, that nobody's bible enumerated the commandments. You have to count them yourself. --Since they are written in verse form, without numbers. And really, I wasn't sure if I was counting them right, because it seemed to me that there were really only nine commandments.

So this morning I looked it up on the internets. According to Wikipedia, there are several different traditions depending on your denomination. It just depends on how you split up the verses. Some people say that "you shall have no other gods before me," and "you shall not make yourself a false idol" are two different commandments. Whereas other people say that "you shall not covet your neighbors possessions" and "you shall not covet your neighbors wife" are two different commandments (when I had thought there only seemed like 9 commandments I was lumping both "don't covets" together as one commandment, and also lumping "don't make a false idol" and "have no other gods before me" as one commandment.)

The tradition of splitting up the "don't covets" but keeping the "don't make false idols" and "have no other gods before me" as a single commandment seems more reasonable to me but, honestly, it probably really doesn't matter a whole lot. This is the kind of thing that people probably got killed over in the 16th century. Hard core religious people would probably still get a little too worked up over it even today.

Anyway, all this thought about ordering reminded me of one of the first theorems that one learns in elementary number theory, The Well Ordering Principle. This theorem says that any collection of non-negative integers will always have a smallest integer. Think about this for a moment and you will see that what this theorem is really saying is that any collection of non-negative integers can be listed in order, or ranked (that's why it's called the Well-Ordering Principle.)

That theorem turns out to be an important building block in number theory, but what does it have to do with the Ten Commandments? I guess the point is that the numbering of the commandments matters only if it is also a ranking. i.e. commandment #1 is more important than commandment #2, commandment #5 is less important than commandment #4, etc.

I'm actually curious to know what religious traditions, if any, do consider the enumeration of the commandments to be a ranking. Maybe I'll give my dad a call and ask if he knows.

If she were ranking them, I'm pretty sure my mother, given here druthers, would have made "honor your father and mother" a little higher.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

laws of men, laws of physics: culture is learned

One of the things that worried me about coming back to Oregon after spending the summer in NY was whether or not I'd be able to break the habit of running red lights.

I've posted about this before --how Portland is a little uptight when it comes to such things. Here you will get called out by other cyclists, motorists, --lots of people feel it is their place to be your mother.

Whereas in NY the modus operandi of virtually every cyclist amounted to, to quote (I think) Lucas Brunelle, "there is no law but the laws of physics."

Anyway it hasn't been difficult at all. Sure every once in a while I get all excited and pretend I've a direct rush to W. 27th and I've got to make time, and then I run a few reds. But on the whole It has been very easy to just adapt to the p-town culture and wait for the light like our four-wheeled friends.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Irony and I wish I had a camera

I need to buy a camera. I'm always seeing things that I want to take a picture of.

For example, a couple of days ago on 47th and Sandy I saw a bit of a strange scene.

First, some guy pulled up to the stoplight on a fixed gear conversion bike and put his foot down.

Then, moments later, a spandex clad roadie on a high end racing bike pulled up right behind him and did a track stand until the light changed.

I wished a had had a picture because it was really irony personified.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Forget the hockey moms, what about the tandem track racing moms?

Keep watching till a little after two minutes in. It gets exciting.

Friday, October 3, 2008


It poured mostly all day today and I spent some time putting fenders on my bike. The best fenders I have are a little too tight for my 35cm tire setup but I have mismatched older ones (without any hardware or fender stays) that are wider that I'll to try and modify so they'll work with the fender stays I have.

It's a a good thing I made it back to P-town in time for the rainy season.

I wouldn't have wanted to miss it.

found a photo on the internets

I was trying to find a photo of Eighth Avenue pedestrian traffic when I came across this:

...Kind of a neat picture.

No posts for two months = lame

One problem with Portland is that it's too easy to slip right back into like you were never gone. Then, suddenly, five more years have passed and what happened in the meantime?

Riding home from work here is worlds away from commuting home in Manhattan. I can remember riding up eighth avenue at rush hour, when the sidewalks would literally overflow with pedestrians into the bike lane and sometimes even the car lanes. --It was nuts. And I remember how excited I was to have found that pathetic little fir tree in downtown Manhattan. Portland, on the other hand, has no shortage of urban forests.

Here's a picture of Berrydale Park near 92nd and Hawthorne.

A view like the above is so common in Portland, and the Douglas Firs are so majestic. It's a far, far cry from the steaming manhole covers and blaring horns that were the norm as I used to fight my way through midtown and Columbus Circle and then further uptown along Central Park West.

The thing is that I must be insane, because I find myself wanting to move back to the city.