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

Dennis Baron debaron at illinois.edu
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

http://illinois.edu/goto/debaron