Readers write: Nonexistent numbers, top-notch director, and more

Letters to the editor for the July 27, 2020 weekly magazine. Readers discuss whether or not “one zillion” exists, and more.

The benefits of service

As grandmother to four exemplary college graduates and undergraduates, I heartily endorse Anna Mulrine Grobe’s cover story “Boosting national service” in the June 8 Monitor Weekly. 

That period of immaturity in older teenagers is often sorely challenged in that first year of college, when the lack of familiar structure and access to potentially injurious experiences can be chaotic and disturbing. Even though my grandchildren have emerged whole, many do not, and I have often thought a year or 18 months of mandatory national nonmilitary service would be a good antidote to many problems. 

Just to live together with a diverse group of peers would be educational, somewhat like Israeli kibbutzim. And government funding for employees of the program should attract those with the highest qualifications.

DeAnne Hart
Watsonville, California

Nonexistent numbers

Many thanks for Melissa Mohr’s delightful column “There are a zillion different names for big numbers” in the June 8 Monitor Weekly. It reminded me of my son Nathan when he was 7 or 8. At the time, I doubted how well he was paying attention when I imparted my math wisdom to him. When he used the term “gazillion,” I told him, “You know, there really isn’t a number called ‘gazillion’.” He flatly contradicted me at once, then asked me if there is an infinite number of numbers. I agreed he was correct. He then pointed out that if each conceivable number is assigned some name, then one of the infinite set of numbers must logically be called “gazillion.” 

I was speechless. He was right. My warm sense of fatherly pride in seeing that my son had indeed been paying attention during our chats about infinity was dampened only by my abject logical defeat. And – sadly, for it’s a charming turn of phrase – we may have to eliminate the category “indefinite hyperbolic numbers” of which “gazillion” was an alleged member.

Lance Matteson

Revisiting favorite stories

Thank you for the article “Readers share their favorite poems of comfort” and the book review “Longfellow gave Americans their history” in the June 15 Monitor Weekly. 

They inspired me to reread “The Song of Hiawatha.” The edition I have is a children’s book with beautiful illustrations by Susan Jeffers. In that vein, Robert Service and his tales of the Yukon have always been a joy to read as well. 

Also, a thank you to Peter Rainer for the article “Home theater: A feast for foodies and film fans” in the same issue. I agree with Mr. Rainer that “Big Night” is a marvelous movie. The final scene is a classic. After the two main characters have a huge fight, they come together with quiet understanding and brotherly love. Fade out!

Nancy Robison
Newport Beach, California

Top-notch director

Regarding Peter Rainer’s article “Home theater: Satyajit Ray’s enthralling world” in the June 8 Monitor Weekly: I was so glad to see this director covered in the Monitor. I was introduced to The Apu Trilogy in a 1967 class on film history. The instructor required us to see all three. He shared his view that these were among the finest movies ever made. I’m glad to learn that they now can be rented online, and plan to do that very soon. Thanks to Mr. Rainer for the well-written review.

Carl Treseder
Winters, California

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Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

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