[texhax] Latex: dumbing down? (fwd)

Michael Barr mbarr at math.mcgill.ca
Fri Aug 25 17:25:32 CEST 2006

I know this post will start a flame war, but I have no intention of 
getting involved in that or answering it.

I recently got a paper to copy edit that contained the line
\[ (*)\ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ some formula \]
with a later reference to formula $(*)$.  Naturally, I changed that to
$$ some formula\eqno(*)$$
(Actually, first I tried \[...\eqno(*)\] but that gave an error message.)

I began to muse about this.  I have been lectured by latex purists about 
how dangerous it can be to mix plain and latex (why then is nearly the 
entire body of plain incorporated into latex?), but I have never paid the 
least attention to that.  Certainly Leslie Lamport was not rigid on that 
question.  Two pages of his "Latex" was devoted to that question.  As far 
as I can tell from that book as well as the Companion, there is no way, in 
pure latex, to put in (*) as an equation "number".  But this is a 
perfectly reasonable thing to do.

More generally, restricting oneself to "pure" latex, while a good idea for 
a beginner, is too restrictive for someone who wants to get the most out 
of tex.  I am beginning to understand the mentality of a colleague of mine 
who told me that he would never use Latex because Latex does not allow you 
to...(whatever, as a matter of fact, I think it was a matter of using 
\eqno).  I told him that latex incorporates nearly all of plain tex, but I 
could never convince that the things that latex did well (sectioning, 
lists, etc) were real time savers.  

Occasionally (although not for several years) the journal will get a paper 
in plain.  My first reaction is to add our document class and begin and 
end document and see if it runs.  It usually does.  Of course then I have 
to go through the paper to replace every theorem, proposition, lemma, 
etc., by the appropriate latex macro.  Once upon a time, the journal tried 
to maintain a plain style file, but it was too hard since every user of 
plain was accustomed to rolling his own.  Now if it comes in in Latex 
(even if it is just latex 2), I can just make a few changes and it works.

Incidentally, one of the main features of tex (not even plain) that I use 
heavily for my own work is the ability to use paramater contexts.  As an 
\def\comb(#1 #2){\pmatrix{#1\cr#2}}
allows me to type the very natural \comb(3 2) get what I want.  You cannot 
do that in pure latex, although it works perfectly in latex anyway.

Michael Barr

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