Monday, August 25, 2008

Reading "The World Is Flat" is Not Off To a Good Start

A very popular book was recommended to me that sounded intriguing, The World is Flat, by Thomas Friedman. I very much want to like it -- globalization and how technology has changed our world are both interesting topics. But page one, we're off to a very bad start, where it states Columbus proved to the Europeans once and for all that the world was round, not flat, as they allegedly believed.

WRONG. That is a myth. Pretty much any Christian in Europe after, oh, 1 AD or so knew the world was a globe. The Greeks certainly did. People were estimating the circumference of it as far back as 240 BC. From the Wikipedia:
The modern belief that especially medieval Christianity believed in a flat earth has been referred to as The Myth of the Flat Earth.[1] In 1945, it was listed by the Historical Association (of Britain) as the second of 20 in a pamphlet on common errors in history.[2] Recent scholarship[3] has argued that "with extraordinary [sic] few exceptions no educated person in the history of Western Civilization from the third century B.C. onward believed that the earth was flat" and that the prevailing view was of a spherical earth.

Jeffrey Russell states that the modern view that people of the Middle Ages believed that the Earth was flat is said to have entered the popular imagination in the 19th century, thanks largely to the publication of Washington Irving's fantasy The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus in 1828. Although these writers reject the idea of a flat earth, others such as the Flat Earth Society accept or promote the hypothesis.
Unfortunately, as late as 1983 textbooks have perpetuated this myth. I remember reading a children's book about Columbus in 5th grade in Texas and finding myself telling the teacher "This book is wrong." (She shook her head and went back to ignoring us.)

So how could a book written by a New York Times columnist no less be published with this glaring error? I'm hoping to get past the first chapter, but I'm not convinced I can. There's another problem in that Mr. Friedman seems to be mixing metaphors a lot, using "flat" when he means "fair" or "level"... or does he really mean "interconnected?" "Converging"? Perhaps "small" as in "It's a small world"? All of the above?

Now this myth will be read as truth by millions more people; it just won't die, ahousehold pest in the woodwork of historical accuracy. Thanks Mr. Friedman. Your head is flat, sir.

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posted by Brian at 6:51 PM 1 comments links to this post

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Fork in the Road of Life

Forks are definitely the most popular metaphorical roadside cutlery. Seldom, if ever, will you hear anyone mention they have a "spoon", "ladle", "electric can-opener" or a "chopstick" in the road of life. Indeed, look for the shot in the Muppet Movie where Kermit and Fozzie encounter a giant fork in the road on their sing-a-long ride to California.

And so it is now that I have a fork in the road. On one spoke, I have a job interview for an R & D position at Industrial Light & Magic (I.L.M) coming up. If that path follows through, I'd wind up back in San Francisco where I had resided from 1995 through 2003. Off another spoke, I could stay here in Los Angeles and pursue a part-time M.B.A. at UCLA (assuming I get accepted), presumably finding another software job. That had been my plan except that I'm not continuing my present contract (stupid corporate takeovers!)

Then there's always the "bizarro" spoke of the fork, where I would do something random, like start a band, or skurry off to Jamaica, Brazil, China or Europe for the rest of the year.

Typical usage of forks involves using all spokes at once, and there's a good chance I will get to do a little of everything.

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posted by Brian at 2:11 PM 0 comments links to this post