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The Straight Dope 

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Why does newspaper tear straight in one direction and crooked in the perpendicular direction? --Kevin Bower, Tyler, Texas

Sure makes clipping those Alpo coupons a bitch, doesn't it? Well, it can't be helped. The problem is that newsprint has grain, and it's easier to tear with the grain than across it.

Newsprint is made by pouring wood pulp onto a moving wire-mesh conveyer belt. The wood fibers line themselves up parallel to the belt's direction of travel, giving the paper a grain akin to tree grain. After drying and pressing, the paper is wound onto rolls. When the roll is fed into the press, the grain once again is parallel to the direction of travel, i.e., vertically on a typical broadsheet newspaper page. Good thing, too, because paper is stronger with the grain than across it, so it's less likely to tear going through the press. Anyway, when you tear down the page, you're going between wood fibers, so the rip is straight. Crosswise there's no such natural path and the tear is ragged. If it bugs you, buy a scissors.

Of the 27,000-plus so-called Christian religions, about 99 percent worship on Sunday. However, all Biblical indications are that the Sabbath or Lord's Day is the last day of the week, that is, Saturday. Isn't every priest, minister, and TV preacher helping us break a commandment by holding worship services on Sunday instead of Saturday? They use the excuse that the Resurrection occurred on the first day of the week, Sunday. Still, nowhere in the Bible does the Lord say, "thou shalt change the Lord's Day from the last to the first day of the week." --Saint Michael of San Antonio, Texas

One of the great things about founding a new religion, bro, is you get to do things any damn way you want. The Sabbath, which marks the last day of creation, on which God rested, is a Jewish tradition. The Lord's day, on the other hand, is strictly a Christian one.

Christians often call the Lord's day the Sabbath, but don't get the wrong idea. Though Christians obviously borrowed a great deal from Judaism, they felt no obligation to worship on the same schedule that the Jews did. Admittedly at times it was expedient to do so. In the early days, when Christianity was considered a kind of postgraduate Judaism and most converts were Jews, it was customary to observe the Sabbath and the Lord's day (Sunday) back-to-back. Not only was this convenient, it had a certain metaphorical significance: the Sabbath commemorated the seventh day, the completion of material creation, while the Lord's day, sometimes called "the eighth day," signified the start of the creation of God's kingdom on earth, the Church.

Dual Saturday-Sunday worship was uncommon outside Palestine and most Christians celebrated Sunday only, Sunday having been the day of the Resurrection. As it happened, the Roman name "Sunday" (Latin dies solis) meshed with the Christian idea that Jesus was the new sun, the light of the world. The Lord's day and Sunday have been linked ever since.

MORE BAD NEWS ON THE AQUARIUS WATCH

Your July 7 column seemed a little vague on what the Age of Aquarius is and when it will begin. The idea of an astrological "age" arises from the precession of the vernal equinox through the twelve astrological signs (or the thirteen modern astronomical constellations) of the zodiac. The modern astronomical constellations have precisely mapped boundaries. If we use these to measure our "ages," we can say definitively that the vernal equinox will enter Aquarius in 2660 and leave in 4360. The Age of Aquarius will begin and end in those years.

Astrologers, however, have little use for modern astronomy (or anything else that requires rational thought). They have traditionally divided the zodiac into twelve "signs" of equal width. Since the vernal equinox makes a complete circuit of the zodiac in 25,785 years, the corresponding "age" of each zodiac sign lasts 2,148 years. But nobody has ever delineated exactly where each "sign" (and thus each "age") begins and ends. Your definition of the Age of Pisces as lasting from 1 A.D. to 2150 is good enough, but you could shift it a century or two either way and nobody could argue. --Jim Klann, Glendale Heights, Illinois

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.

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