Good Numbers, Bad Numbers

In politics, as in work and life generally, I’m a longtime fan of getting the right numbers, getting the numbers right, and understanding what they tell us and what they don’t. My recent essay, Water Bills, Fees, and Our Politics, applied that to local politics.

It also left me thinking that some illustrative, more general examples might be useful or at least fun. They’re not all from politics, let alone the current local election cycle.

Using Numbers Wrong

Let’s warm up with a softball.

The other day, I saw something like this floating around the Internet (I’m paraphrasing): “An orchestra consisting of 80 musicians can play a Beethoven symphony in 30 minutes. How many minutes would it take an orchestra of 120 musicians to play the same symphony?”

orchestra

If you don’t think about the situation, you might just make a calculation and say 20 minutes. Your math would be right, but your answer would be wrong. A moment’s consideration will reveal the obvious: the number of minutes will be approximately the same, no matter what size the orchestra. It’s not like asking how many more Toyota Tundras you can make if you have three identical, adequately staffed and supplied Tundra factories instead of two.

On Inauguration Day: 15 Things I Didn’t Blog About Lately, 9 Wishes for Our Future, 8 Points of Gratitude and Pride, and 3 Gifts for You

As I post this, one President of the United States is in the last minutes of his second term. (Much of the chattering class said this as New Year’s Day approached, but now it’s literally true.) Another President will call this the first day of his first term. Yet I will finish the day much as I begin it: a citizen of a country whose chief executive’s political aspirations and principles, or personal qualities, or both, I expect to be more harmful than beneficial to the freedom and welfare of my nation and the world.

Ten and a half weeks have passed since Election Day; one day less has passed since I last blogged here. True, I’ve been caught up in personal, professional, and church obligations; I spent more than half that span at least slightly ill (due to nonpolitical causes); and there was a holiday season stuck in there somewhere. So I have plenty of excuses for not blogging here. But they are only excuses. Obviously, I had some time to write, as you can see at my non-political blog, Bendable Light. I just didn’t want to write about politics enough to finish anything I started. I’m not sure what that means.

But here we are. I propose to do four things during our time together here today. First, I’ll briefly mention most of the political topics on which I’ve considered writing in recent weeks. I don’t know what that will do for you – paint a picture of my current political thoughts, perhaps, without belaboring any of them – but it will probably make me feel better and help me move on. Second and third, I’ll try to lift my eyes and words above grim politics, mostly, to some hopes and some points of pride and gratitude we’re more likely to share. Fourth, I have three small gifts for you.

Now What? (Electoral Afterthoughts)

I can’t say it was my favorite birthday ever, or even a particularly good one, but it was an interesting evening. And long.

If you prefer to skip my due diligence — my recap of the races on my ballot and my predictions for them — and scroll down to the heading “Now What?” below, I won’t be hurt. Actually, I won’t even know.

Presidential Race

As I write this, it’s unclear what the final electoral vote totals will be in the presidential race. They say a few races are still too close to call: New Hampshire (probably Clinton), Michigan (probably Trump), Minnesota (probably Clinton), and Arizona (probably Trump). The present totals without these states are 279 for Mr. Trump and 218 for Mrs. Clinton. A win is 270 or better, a majority. If the four states I named go as I indicated, he’ll finish with 306, and she with 232. It’s a resounding victory for Mr. Trump, even though the popular vote totals at the moment seem to have him up by only one-fifth of a percentage point. (See my notes on the Electoral College.)

The Electoral College and the Vote

This post is not about candidates or races. I’m not telling you how to vote or why. I’ve already done all I intend to do of that.

Instead, this is something relevant but more general, something to think about while we await results — and briefly, something to do once we know them, whatever they prove to be.

The Vote

Be sure to vote today, if you didn’t vote early – and not to, if you did. (The Chicago exception is noted.) Besides tending to moderate the outcomes, a high turnout among living, registered voters is one of the best ways to ensure that the living outvote the dead, the legal outvote the illegal, and the real outvote the fabricated – if you worry about those things at all.

I believe there is an implied, inalienable voter’s right to be reasonably confident that conscientious measures are in place (a) to facilitate voting by everyone who is eligible to vote and wishes to, and (b) to protect the integrity of the vote from various forms of fraud, intimidation, and other activities which would corrupt it.

Notes and Thoughts on the Third Presidential Debate

It’s been nearly two weeks since I watched the third presidential debate live, and I’m only now finding time to clean up my notes and post them here. I apologize for the delay, but there’s something you should know.

A lot of fetid water has passed under the bridge since then, but the third debate is not old news. In terms of substance it’s probably the high point of the campaign. As we end the month of Icktober on the calendar but not in spirit, this is the debate you should watch — if you think our politics ought to be about policy; if you long for a bygone day when a presidential campaign wasn’t mostly about sleaze, thuggery, boorishness, and corruption; or if you want to compare the actions of the eventual winner to his or her declarations during the campaign.

I won’t offer a comprehensive summary of the debate; it’s simple enough to watch the whole thing on YouTube or at least read a complete transcript. (I recommend watching it, if you have 90 minutes.) I will try to give you the flavor of it, and I have a few thoughts on what was said.

Testing Evan McMullin

I did something for the first time last week: I went to hear an independent presidential candidate speak. The venue was the ballroom at the historic Provo Library. The candidate was Evan McMullin.

evan mcmullin
Evan McMullin

The crowd ranged in age from infants to senior citizens, but it was dominated by people who looked like college students, including lots of couples. Many of them looked quite married, which accounts for the infants. We were mere blocks from BYU, after all.

I’ve heard actual US presidents speak, at the White House and elsewhere, and I’ve always been closer to them than I was to the podium tonight, even though it’s not a large ballroom. And there was a pillar blocking my view. But that was okay.

Before I arrived, and while I waited for the event to begin, I fashioned a series of tests for the candidate. I’ll tell you what they were and how he did. But first . . .

Notes on the First Presidential Debate

I did it. Heaven help me, I did it. I watched the entire first presidential debate, from beginning to end.

I took only a few notes as I watched. But you can watch it yourself here or read a transcript here, and of course there will be multitudes offering to tell you what the candidates said and what it means and what you should think. There are already lots of fact-checkers too, and if I ever see one who appears nonpartisan, I’ll let you know.

For what it’s worth, I didn’t have time for the pregame chatter over the past few days, and I wasn’t interested in all the immediate postmortems, where everyone tries to spin the thing as if it were exactly what they wanted it to be.

Within minutes of the end, people were asking me who won the debate. I’ll answer that in a moment, but it’s not that simple.

I Declare Amnesty (No, Not That Amnesty)

We’ve entered the post-Labor Day season, during which, by tradition, many voters will begin taking our presidential race seriously.

Meanwhile, many of us have already been paying attention, and we like what we see far less than usual. We’re doing things like leaving our political parties and wondering if our deluded country isn’t worth our political exertions any more.

It’s time for me to make an announcement.

My friends, I am neither God nor the government, so I don’t expect you to think this is earthshaking, but . . .

I hereby grant you amnesty.

Perhaps I should explain.

To Whom and for What?

Yes, amnesty.

To all of you.

No, not for everything you may have done lately. For example, some of you primary voters got us a choice between Trump and Clinton. I’m not presently offering amnesty for that.

Today’s amnesty is mostly preemptive. It’s for your vote or lack thereof in the presidential race this November — and for any reasons, opinions, or gut feelings you may have or offer in support of that vote (or nonvote).

Convention Hopes and Fears

Convention season is upon us. I have hopes and fears — or at least some fervent wishes and grave concerns.

(I regret that my describing them will seem negative to some readers, and that I will be criticizing candidates some of you may support — and refusing to embrace your reasons for supporting them. If it’s of any comfort, I don’t insist that you agree with me, and I admit the possibility that I may be wrong. But I cannot tell you what I think without telling you what I think.)

My first hope: May God have mercy on our nation — even if we ourselves collectively may not. I don’t expect either convention to do us proud.

My second hope is that the people who sit back and think, “It’s working,” when they hear news of police officers being shot in our cities, won’t have any new cause for celebration in the next two weeks.

My third hope is that the only violence at either convention will be the violence of words. That will be toxic enough.

What I expect, when the conventions are finished, is a November choice among two tyrants-in-waiting and a libertarian. I wouldn’t mind seeing Libertarian Gary Johnson poll well enough to get into the presidential debates, but I won’t vote for him either.

The Post I Never Finished Last Year (Updated)

For me 2015 was, among other things, a year in which I didn’t blog as much as I hoped to, and didn’t finish some of the writing I started.

I’m trying to avoid that this year, in part by scaling back my expectations, but also by doing a little better outside of election season. There are things other than politics and government about which I want to write — am writing — elsewhere, but these things matter too.

I have fragments of an unpublished post from last year in which I predicted some things for the coming year. I thought it might be interesting to look back, forward, and around on the same topics one year later.