Pseudo-math

I, like many people, have been deeply confused by how on earth the primaries have worked so far.  First there was Iowa with the coin-tossing, and then there’s New Hampshire with assigning the super-delegates to Hillary when they don’t have to commit until they vote at the convention?  Even the debates are broken down by minutes and seconds of speaking time.  And then there are the polls!  Goodness, then there are the polls.  Trump up by 15 in Iowa!  Sanders up by X, Y, and Z but only in age-groups and demographic brackets A, B, and C, and then only in New Hampshire!  Do national polls even mean anything? 

Help!  There’s no joy or good humor left in this race when we only talk about numbers, Trump’s glee at his own numbers aside.

That being as it may, if watching the coverage of this race has taught me anything,  it’s that as a pundit, or a fledgling one, you’re nothing without numbers.  That’s where the real analysis is, and that’s where you can say something worth saying.  I realized this, and then looked with horror over my past posts.  Dear god, I’ve got to get some numbers going here if I want this blog to really mean something.

Without further ado, I present 2016 to the Reader: Pseudo-Math Edition.

First, and as a baseline, we can compare the number of pages per book.  As is pretty obvious, Hillary Clinton wins by a landslide here, with over a hundred more pages than her closest competitor, Ted Cruz.  In a head-to-head matchup against any other candidate, Clinton certainly wins by by this metric.

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We’ll get back to how else we might judge bang per buck per book later, but for now, let’s look at another number.

Here is the number of names in each index, painstakingly hand-counted by trained professionals with a bottle of wine and a podcast*.  Sharp-eyed readers may notice that Trump is missing here, because, as I have agonized over elsewhere, Trump has no index.  This is still an affront to the standard order of the world and I don’t like it.  Anyway, counting up Trump’s name-droppings is out of my range at the moment.

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Now, as you might guess, this is something of an arbitrary number.  Does it make sense to count people like Sun-Tzu and Thomas Jefferson with Henry Kissinger, Richard Holbrooke with some guy from your state, Mitch McConnell with Miley Cyrus?  Probably not.  But the pseudo-math of this list of names, like the pseudo-math of the polls, can still tell us something.  Clinton far and away wins on the number of pages and on the number of names, and the latter isn’t just a function of the former: rather, she also wins on the average names per page.

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In Peter Morgan’s Frost/Nixon, Nixon says in scene thirteen that “modern political diplomacy, or political friendship…is a procedure whereby leaders of the major powers, having gotten to know one another personally over time, can settle disputes diplomatically—in conversation—before reaching a flashpoint…”  The volume of Clinton’s personal relationships equals her claim to diplomatic prowess.  This is a very clear first impression anyway, but brought home by just how many more names Clinton brings up than her competitors.  Clinton is the only one to break the 1-per-page mark, which is mind-blowing in a book of this size.

Another point is the writing process.  The three smallest totals on this front are from Sanders, Rubio, and Carson.  Sanders’ book is a transcript of a largely improvised speech.  Carson’s book was mostly dictated to his wife.  The number of facts and names you can recall speaking spontaneously and the amount you can recall with a team of dedicated researchers and writers are obviously going to be very different.  Rubio is the curious one here, and I would like to hear more about his writing process (reading the book after I finish up with Trump).  His book is as short as Carson’s, but he’s also a junior senator with perhaps fewer personal contacts to draw on, or less to talk about.  We’ll suspend judgement here for the time being, but it’s interesting.

Speaking of how much candidates have to talk about, let’s look at chapters.  For number of chapters, we have a surprise winner with Scott Walker, edging out Hillary Clinton by two chapters.

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On the other hand, this might be because Walker’s chapters are, on average, the shortest chapters.

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Bernie is the curveball here, since he has an introduction and then a several-hundred-page speech, and my rules for counting chapters included all prefaces, introductions, epilogues, and afterwords.  Excluding Sanders, Cruz tops our list of longest chapters, averaging around 30 pages.  What does this mean—is Cruz verbose and Walker concise?  Well, no.  Walker breaks up a relatively short event into many chapters while Cruz breaks a three-generation memoir into few chapters.  Who knows.

Here is something that speaks to my wizened academic heart: the number of citation pages.

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First, you will note that very few candidates have notes, although some do inline citations and some copy/paste URLs into parentheses.  Of those, Jeb is far and away the most well-cited, and I was convinced of that even before I did the pseudo-math.

But here is another problem: Paul’s citation pages are in minuscule font, jammed together, while the others are more relaxed, with normal paragraph spacing.  How are we supposed to know how much we’re getting from one of these books?  Fundamentally, selling a book is a capitalist act, and we as consumers have a right to try to exercise our rational choice and get as much candidate for as little dollar as possible.  How are we supposed to choose, when number of pages isn’t a predictor of how much text?  I tried measuring page margins—no dice, they were all in a fairly small range.  I tried measuring line spacing—same deal, only Trump and Bush were double-spaced while everyone else hovered around 1.5.

Then I hit on something—

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There!  The surface-area-to-volume ratio (SAV) of each book.  From this, we know that Carson and Rubio are probably your best bets for books to put under your pillow and hope that they osmose directly into your brain without having to read them, since they have the largest surface area relative to volume; unfortunately, if middle-school biology serves me, this also probably means that they are faster to react and faster also to lose heat in the New Hampshire snows.  Hillary, on the other hand?  She’s in it to win it.  Hard Choices is built like a polar bear—high volume, low surface area, plenty of heat conservation.  She’ll keep the momentum going.

But something’s still bothering me.  As all the news networks have also claimed, we can’t always say that who knows the most facts, or who speaks the most is the person we necessarily want to win.  So how else can we measure character?  How else can we measure leadership, force of personality?

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Voters, your choice is clear.**

*It’s a rough count, okay?

**For excellent analysis on the subject, David Graeber is unmissable.

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