I know I’m a little late, but here’s my back-to-school column.
I should warn you that part of this column is plagiarized. That’s
right. I copied it. I cheated. How appropriate for a back-to-school
column, huh? I hear it’s an epidemic in those government schools — even
on the dumbed-down tests.
From whom did I plagiarize it? Well, that’s the problem. I’m not
sure. And that’s why I was forced to plagiarize it rather than publish
the work with appropriate credit to the author. The author is unknown.
It’s one of those beautiful, inexplicable, brilliant, unsolicited
e-mails you get in your mailbox from a friend. When you ask your friend
where it came from, he doesn’t know. Or worse, yet, he tells you. Then
you write to his friend, who says he got it from his uncle, who, in
turn, says he got it from his cousin, who swears he saw the chairman of
Procter and Gamble pledge allegiance to Satan on the “Merv Griffin
In any case, this particular gem came to me two years ago. To
demonstrate I’m not the kind of guy who plagiarizes material lightly, I
spent the past two years — practically full-time — trying to determine
the origin of this prose.
I tell you all this because journalists have been getting fired –
left and right (but mostly right) — for misusing copy produced by
others. I have an advantage, though, over those other journalists. I’m
the boss. I would have to fire myself if and when I find myself guilty
of the offense. Not likely. At least not before I cash in on my stock
But enough set-up, already. Here comes the plagiarized part. And,
keep in mind, only the punctuation has been changed to protect the
Teaching Math in 1950: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100.
His cost of production is 4/5 of the price. What is his profit?
Teaching Math in 1960: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100.
His cost of production is 4/5 of the price, or $80. What is his profit?
Teaching Math in 1970: A logger exchanges a set “L” of lumber for a
set “M” of money. The cardinality of set “M” is 100. Each element is
worth one dollar. Make 100 dots representing the elements of the set
“M.” The set “C,” the cost of production, contains 20 fewer points than
set “M.” Represent the set “C” as a subset of set “M” and answer the
following question: What is the cardinality of the set “P” for profits?
Teaching Math in 1980: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100.
Her cost of production is $80 and her profit is $20. Your assignment:
Underline the number 20.
Teaching Math in 1990: By cutting down beautiful forest trees, the
logger makes $20. What do you think of this way of making a living?
Topic for class participation after answering the question: How did the
forest birds and squirrels feel as the logger cut down the trees? There
are no wrong answers.
Teaching Math in 1998: A laid-off logger with four kids at home and a
ridiculous alimony from his first failed marriage comes into the logging
company corporate offices and goes postal, mowing down 16 executives and
a couple of secretaries, and gets lucky when he nails a politician on
the premises collecting his kickback. Was outsourcing the loggers a good
move for the company?
Teaching Math in 1999: A laid-off logger serving time in Folsom for
blowing away several people is being trained as a COBOL programmer in
order to work on Y2K projects. What is the probability that the
automatic cell doors will open on their own as of 00:01, 01/01/2000?
Now, here comes my original punch line — the one that, I believe, at
least until my unknown collaborator comes forth, gives me the right to
place my byline at the top of this entire modern-day proverb:
Teaching Math in 2000: Is harvesting timber for profit a risky scheme
that threatens endangered species, damages the lungs of the earth,
destroys wetlands and sets back the evolutionary cycle in critical
habitats, national monuments and biospheres that should rightfully be
under the control of the United Nations and allied non-governmental