*I'm with Heinlein: Before you can pull the lever in the voting booth, you have to factor a randomly chosen quadratic equation. If you can do it, you can vote. If you can't, a trapdoor opens...*

No vote for Shakespeare then; the oubliette instead. Nor Plato, or Aristotle - quote out of that link:

*...When Plato died in 347 B.C., Aristotle left the school. The reason he gave was that he disapproved of the growing emphasis on mathematics and theory in the Academy and the continuing decline in natural philosophy...*

Nor Homer nor Virgil nor Dante nor Chaucer nor Blake. Raphael, go, Michaelangelo, go; Titian, go. OK, OK, so I'm cheating a bit; back in their day, the algebraic notation with which one expresses a quadratic equation didn't even yet exist, so if, having traveled back in your time machine, you scribbled one out and thrust it in front of them, unless they could divine its meaning independently, none of them could have balanced that ball on their noses. All right then, even if we only consider folks from the eighteenth century on, I'd bet that at least a quarter of history's luminaries - to enumerate them for practical purposes, suppose we simply take everybody who's made it into the encyclopedia, and then exclude the notorious criminals out of that set - a quarter of those famous names, and a third at least of the greatest artists, wouldn't survive the quadratic ordeal.

And today I asked my wife. She says, annoyed, "What exactly is a quadratic equation, and why should I *want* to solve it?" You know, that is a good question. I myself practically need to know quadratic equations, being a land surveyor. We occasionally have to lay out vertical curves for roadway construction, which commonly follow either a quadratic or a cubic graph in plan view. You automobile drivers probably aren't aware of how carefully we civil engineering types lay out roads for your comfort and safety. Horizontal deflections in the road are laid out carefully along circle arcs so you can whoosh down the center of your lane holding the steering wheel steady in one position, rather than having to constantly maneuver through turns, and hills and valleys are graded so that as you drive at steady speed over the arch or through the dip your vertical accereration remains precisely constant, so no up-and-down jolts and bounces; the one continuous differential equation that satisfies those boundary conditions reduces to the simple quadratic. To do all this for you, dear clientele, we do need to be handy with ax^2 + bx + c = 0.

My wife, on the other hand, is a nurse. A very good one. Over the decades, while she was insensibly forgetting the fluff she half-learned in those hot, drowsy, boring math classes in High School so long ago, during all that time, using her resource and experience and generous goodwill, she has personally saved *hundreds* of lives, and eased the suffering and sped the recuperation for thousands more - have you ever been in a hospital or nursing home? maybe even you! She's not "innumerate" (I think that's the word that guy Paulos uses), she can for example do ratios just fine, so-and-so milligrams of medicine per so-and-so pounds of body weight, you don't lose math you use daily, but right off hand I can't think of *any* application of polynomials of degree > 1 in nursing. Did I mention that she is also a mother who has raised up lovely and intelligent children, so full of virtue and so responsive and successful at school that once they reach their majority even Mr. Heinlein would let them vote? Now you - no not you really, I'm sure you have more sense than that, you just haven't thought it out, it's *Heinlein's* original idea, *Heinlein* proposes to disenfranchise her. Think about that! It's absurd, it's mad. Hell, wise and good as *she* is, she should get *two* votes.

Except now, if you could practically do it, it *would* have the effect of discriminately purging the voter rolls along economic class lines. Probably most college graduates could unravel a quadratic, even if they majored in something non-mathematical like art or business. You just pick stuff like that up in passing, especially if you have an eye on college entrance exams sooner or later. Whereas that class of people who staff the Wal-Marts would have a pretty low success rate with that simple algebra prob, would be purged off the voter's lists pretty thoroughly. Economic-class-wise, who gets to go off to college? Yes, that's a graph, with colored lines and labeled with numbers along each axis, that I offer for your enjoyment, knowing you love math! Anyway after the voter's reg folks start subjecting citizens to Heinlein's quadratic ordeal as a prerequisite to voting, what does that do to the distribution of voters with regard to economic classes? Gee, a phenomenon like that could be of some sinister *use* to certain political parties. You never know when it may come in handy to sneakily and selectively purge certain groups off the voter rolls.

Yours WDK - WKiernan@concentric.net