Do the math – PLEASE.

One of the huge problems with politics is that there is no adherence of late on facts. I blame this largely on the neoconservative movement and their current criminals in the administration of our country, and to a lesser extent the Republican Party in general, who collectively decided that if actual facts did not back them up, it was time to get some facts that did. This involved gathering a group of your elite peers, giving them an impressive sounding name and a bit of money, and then just making up whatever shit you wished the “facts” to say. (Judith Miller, call your office!) When this didn’t work all of the time, the Bushies just decided to ignore whatever facts didn’t fit and press on anyway, leading us of course to the WMD “findings” in Iraq and the U.S. stance on global climate change, and so on.

Having different ideologies lead to different conclusions is nothing new or alarming. But when facts – actual, real-life facts – are trotted out, you need to confront them in a different way. Your beliefs must be a function of evidence; otherwise, you are not being “faith-based”, “anti-intellectual”, or any of the other pseudonyms which have been developed for it: you are simply being a fool, or an idiot. This is not anything to be proud of, and getting the support or votes of such people is similarly not anything to be proud of.

(It’s also not solely the province of the Republican Party. Believing in “a place called Hope” after what happened with the last guy that told us that – who’s incidentally now running by proxy against the current guy – requires a belief that will trump the facts as well. I fear similar results.)

Getting people past this tendency in an admittedly polarized climate requires education. The old civil rights slogan of “each one, teach one”, must be brought back out and dusted off, except it must refer at this point to the purely academic. We really have reached the world of George Orwell, who once wrote, “We have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”

A maddening case in point comes from the news broadcasts and “analysis” on the results of the primary election. I’ve long felt mathematics to be the most “solid” of the facts one can produce. If 2+2=4, there is no belief or ideology that can make it equal otherwise, and there are none which are innately favored or hindered by that conclusion. Counting votes involves numbers, and doing something with numbers other than colorful short films on Sesame Street involves mathematics, and while election results have always been vulnerable to the immoral machinations of some, the actual mathematical operations are not usually called into question.

Until now. The insistence of the major news networks to “call the state” and paint it with a single color disguises the true fact of what is happening: most of the Democratic and Republican primaries are being decided by proportional representation. It’s an elementary mathematical principle: you get 60% of the vote, you get 60% of the delegates. A proportional chunk. In the same sense, the states themselves receive delegates in a roughly proportional manner: North Dakota, for all its connections, doesn’t have as many delegates as California – for what should be intuitively obvious reasons. Yet, Obama’s victory in North Dakota was heralded with a flashy graphic on MSNBC, depicting a flying outline of the state settling comfortably into Obama’s column. A similar display was given to Clinton’s win of California. In fact, Obama gained 163 delegates from California and 8 from N.D.

In the case of Missouri, Mary Frances Berry, reporting on NPR, refered to this astonishingly complicated process as “that funny way that Democrats count delegates”.

Now Berry’s ethics have been called into question before, with very good reason. But she is also a college professor, and reported in that capacity. Her field of study is history, but one would suspect that basic math might at least leak in through the wall by virtue of her being on a college campus.

Please, folks. Learn how the President and your Federal and state officials get elected. I’m specifically referring to all of you who’ve had the right to vote for years – don’t think you don’t have anything else to learn. Don’t think it’s a Republican or Democratic “trick”. Just do the math. See what you need to do. Jefferson was right – this will only work as long as you educate yourselves. Get started.

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2 Responses

  1. FWIW, you educated me and I learned something about the process.

    Unfortunately, I’m prohibited from voting in your election, being a Canadian living in Canada and all, so the knowledge did little good. 😦

  2. […] to know the difference. In some sense, that continues today – I made mention of it recently in this blog as it pertains to the field of statistics. At that time, I found the effort slightly annoying, as […]

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