Guilt by association: My Sarah Palin number is 2. Does that mean I palled around with terrorists?

Dennis Baron debaron at
Tue Oct 14 03:04:19 UTC 2008

There's a new post on the Web of Language:

Guilt by association: My Sarah Palin number is 2. Does that mean I  
palled around with terrorists?

My Sarah Palin number is 2. That means I can never be president, which  
doesn't bother me, but it seriously reduces my street cred, since the  
vice presidential candidate stands for everything I've been satirizing  
for years.

My connection to Palin is tenuous but damning: my former editor  
Michael Spooner knew her back when he lived in Alaska. Nevertheless,  
as my Palin connection put it in a recent listserv post, "Nobody's  
clean. Nobody."

A Palin number is like an Erdös number. Mathematicians make a game of  
seeing who wrote a paper with someone who wrote a paper with the  
prolific Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdös. It's a six-degrees-of- 
separation thing. The number of steps you need to get from your  
article to one with Erdös as co-author is your Erdös number.

An Erdös number requires co-authorship. If it just entailed knowing  
someone who knew someone who knew Erdös, then I could claim an Erdös  
number of 4.

A Bacon number is like an Erdös number – it's the number of steps  
needed to connect an actor to the actor Kevin Bacon (oddly enough,  
Bacon wasn't in Six Degrees of Separation). My Bacon number, like my  
Erdös number, is 4: my daughter has an IMDB credit for working on a  
movie with Pat Morita, who was in a movie with Marcia Gay Harden, who  
was in Rails and Ties with Kevin Bacon. To have a Bacon number, you  
have to have a movie connection, which I do. I shot many home videos  
of my daughter's birthday parties.

It was a bummer to find out that my Palin number was 2. But to make  
matters worse, my Bill Ayers number is 2 as well. Ayers, the founder  
of the Weather Underground in 1969, was a domestic terrorist who made  
bombs, went underground, reformed, went back to school, and now  
teaches educational theory at the University of Illinois in Chicago.

Barack Obama has a Bill Ayers number of 1, because he met Ayers on a  
number of occasions since they both lived in Hyde Park and served  
together on some community organization boards.

Unlike Barack Obama, I never met Bill Ayers (I'm at the University of  
Illinois in Urbana, not Chicago), but I do know several faculty  
members at UIC who attended faculty meetings where Ayers was present.  
Because of his Ayers number, Sarah Palin accused Obama of "palling  
around with terrorists who would target their own country." Since I've  
got a low Ayers number, Palin would probably call me a domestic  
terrorist as well. . . .

To find out if I'm really a domestic terrorist pallaround, read the  
rest of the post on the Web of Language

Dennis Baron
Professor of English and Linguistics
Department of English
University of Illinois
608 S. Wright St.
Urbana, IL 61801

office: 217-244-0568
fax: 217-333-4321

read the Web of Language:

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