November 11 , 2000
First-Ever Potentially Obsolete-Before-It-Arrives Issue of JOHO!
I really thought the next issue would be the normal oversized, can't-read-it-all JOHO you've all come to know and ignore. But it turns out I, with your help, have accumulated a bunch o' stuff on the presidential election. So, while asking the forbearance of those of you who don't have the common courtesy to live in the United States, here is some gossamer-thin material about our current convulsion.
There's no problem mapping a shoreline. Until, that is, you look at it too closely. Suddenly the definition of this clear line loses resolution. Even if you decide to draw your map at a particular time of day and thus plan on drawing a gray zone to account for the tides, as you drop your scale to the size of a grain of sand, indeterminacy overtakes accuracy. Do you count this grain or not? It's half under water, half above water. And now, as a wave departs and another returns, the grain of sand is changing its state even as we watch. As the chaos theorists have pointed out (using something like this very example), there is no accuracy if you're willing to look closely enough.
Thus it is with elections.
So, what conclusions do we draw from this? First, elections are necessarily indeterminate, especially on a national scale. Second, "the outcome" of an election is, like a map of a shoreline, determined by conventional rules for assaying the outcome. You don't have to map every grain of sand, and you don't have to count and re-count and re-count. But the rules also say that the outcome isn't always what the first count says. The rules embodied in laws and practices specify when a recount is required or reasonable. For example, Florida's laws say a recount is automatic when the percentage difference is beneath a certain amount. And Florida's laws say that a county electoral commission can mandate a hand-count when there are signs that looking at each ballot might change the result.
Fine and dandy. Unfortunately and this is the third conclusion the rules themselves are subject to indeterminacy. The closer we look at them, the less clear-cut and accurate they become. And the rule for determining the rules is a court system that affects the very phenomenon it's adjudicating; becoming president on the basis of some cheesy court decisions alters the nature of your presidency.
Fourth conclusion: Heisenberg for President.
It's not often that JOHO is prescient. Ok, never. And now that it's happened, the piece that was prescient didn't get published. Damn!
On the Friday before the election, I sent a commentary to National Public Radio that would have had to have been ("have had to have" ... wow!) recorded and used on the day before the election. My producer was overwhelmed with actual news, so I didn't get to record it. But, here it is, unaltered and unedited. The last paragraph is where the accidental prescience happens:
I have to admit I'm more confused by the presidential polls than I am by the difference between the gross national product and the gross domestic product. Every day, and now it seems every hour, we get a new set of poll numbers. Bush up by 3. Gore closes the gap to 2. Bush up by 4. Whatever. But then comes the fine print: Margin of error, 4 points.
So, if the bounces up and down are within the margin of error, doesn't that mean that the bounces aren't bounces at all but are meaningless, random differences? Shouldn't the headline be:
Margin of Error Means We Just Don't Know!
Oh, but we've learned to treat the elections like a sport. Where would baseball be today if you opened up the daily newspaper to see the results of last night's game and read:
YANKEES 9, METS 7
4 Point Margin of Error Means Game too Close to Call!
Although the whole point of an election is to set a date when the decision will be made, we want politics to be more interesting than that. Apparently the conflict of ideas and of values and even of personal styles, that's not enough to keep our interest. A campaign without polls would be like a baseball season where the sides played for the love of the game and didn't keep score. Where's the fun in that?
Well, one more day and then we're going to go ahead and ruin the whole thing by actually voting. But shouldn't there be a margin of error there also? After all, some percentage of people pull a lever they didn't intend to pull, and some percentage of absentee ballots are counted wrong, and some people leave the booth and suddenly wished they'd voted the other way. Let's give our elections a 3% margin of error, so unless someone gets at least 52%, the election goes into over time and not only do we get a president elected entirely on purpose, but we also get a few more days of political sports-o-tainment.
Here's my little fantasy about how it should turn out:
Michael Kinsley, at Slate, has a slightly more practical suggestion: Gore offers to concede in return for a pledge from Bush to support the McCain-Feingold campaign reform bill.
As an incentive, let's offer to have musicians play "Hail to the Chief" whenever Gore enters a white house.
Dennis Doughty, a JOHO reader, wrote the following to a discussion group of which we're both members. He reminds us that this isn't the first time a national election has been contested:
... in 1960, the GOP got a federal court injunction to delay certification of the vote in Texas until the party's petition for a recount could be heard. There were recounts in several states. California switched its vote after absentee ballots were tallied; Hawaii switched its vote after its recount. On November 26 (two weeks from now, in other words), the New York Times published an editorial which included the line "[i]t is now imperative that the results in each state be definitively settled by the time the electoral college meets." Read all about it:
Matt Oristano sends us to learn about the Harris Interactive Poll, an Internet-based poll that predicted 71 out of 73 races accurately:
Here's a dumbass way to feel not a whit better about the election. It's been making the rounds, and was first sent to us by Jonathan C.:
Christopher "RageBoy" Locke, who reminds us that we've failed to mention that his psycho-pundit newsletter is easily avoided by not going to www.rageboy.com/index2.html, passes this to us:
So far, it's my favorite of the visual humor pieces the election has produced on the Web. My favorite real-world graphic is Bush's new facial boil, but only because of its Biblical significance. Believe me, within the first 100 days of a burning Bush administration we'll all be buying frog-proof umbrellas and backing mandatory murrain testing for presidential candidates.
Has anyone checked to see if the Bush kine are lean?
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