Author's Note: It has come to my attention that there was a widely-discussed satiric piece by Mark Boslough published last century also premised on the notion of the value of pi being changed. Any similarity between the earlier piece and mine is purely coincidental.
Congresswoman Martha Roby (R-Ala.) is sponsoring HR 205, The Geometric Simplification Act, declaring the Euclidean mathematical constant of pi to be precisely 3. The bill comes in response to data and rankings from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, rating the United States' 15 year-olds 25th in the world in mathematics.
OECD is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2011, and the Paris-based NGO released its international educational rankings, placing the US in a three-way tie for math, equaling Portugal and Ireland, just beneath No. 24 Luxembourg.
"That long-held empirical value of pi, I am not saying it should be necessarily viewed as wrong, but 3 is a lot better," said Roby, the 34-year old legislator representing Alabama's second congressional district, ushered into office in the historic 2010 Republican mid-term bonanza.
Pi has long been defined as the ratio of a circle's area to the square of its radius, a mathematical constant represented by the Greek letter "π," with a value of approximately 3.14159. HR 205 does not change the root definition, per se. The bill simply, and legally, declares pi to be exactly 3.
Roby, raised in Montgomery, Ala., is on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education.
"It's no panacea, but this legislation will point us in the right direction. Looking at hard data, we know our children are struggling with a heck of a lot of the math, including the geometry incorporating pi," Roby said. "I guarantee you American scores will go up once pi is 3. It will be so much easier."
Democrats first responded to the measure with a mixture of incredulity and amusement.
"Really?" asked George Miller (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the Education and Labor Committee. "Isn't that an awful lot like assuming only even numbers can be negative? You can't legislate math; that's like making it illegal to rain on the Fourth of July," the San Francisco Bay area representative chuckled.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) ridiculed objections from the left as further examples of classic elitist liberalism.
"Democrats don't want our children to succeed, they would actually feel better if France one day bests our kids on that test," Boehner said, unaware that, by tying Slovakia for 16th, France already does outrank the US in math. "Time after time, Democrats refuse to acknowledge American exceptionalism, and they're doing it again by trying to deny our children another tool for success."
Rep. Roby took a slightly more pragmatic stance.
"For decades, we've all been learning that pi is this crazy 'irrational' number. And any number with no end is, not, well, it makes it really hard," Roby said. "We talked about making pi 3-and-a-third, but that wouldn't really help, because you're still then stuck with endless threes."
HR 205 is expected to pass the House of Representatives but even if it also passes in the Senate -- unlikely with Democrats maintaining a slim majority -- President Obama has pledged to veto.
"I badly want to refuse to dignify HR 205 with acknowledgment, but... my Republican friends are serious," Obama said. "And I don't care how strongly Geometric Simplification has been polling, I just can't be responsible for that." The president added, "Unless there's something on the table. Barack Obama does love a good compromise. Maybe if Republicans will agree to let Planned Parenthood perform AIDS testing. Or just convince the Tea Party Caucus to at least publicly agree it is the Earth that revolves around the sun, and not the other way around."
New York City Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) responded to Roby's legislation with a massive brain aneurysm. Democrats are hopeful to retain his New York City seat in an April special election.