Friday, June 13, 2008

George F. Will = 4,721

That boy sure does like to count things. I can't find that old stock photo of him that used to run with his magazine columns -- the one where he's counting off pithy bullet-points with both hands. It would have made such a perfect intro image for this post. Alas.


As a columnist, he should be using more words than numbers, right? I'd count all his words and numbers just to be sure, but that would only stoke and waft the stench of arid, left-brain prose that makes up the average George F. Will column. In his latest, "November's Magic Numbers," he breaks down the 2008 election into safe, office pool numerology:
Obama might capture the 2004 red states New Mexico (5 electoral votes), Nevada (5) and Colorado (9) -- George W. Bush won them by a combined 127,011 votes -- giving him 270. McCain, who in his 10-year campaign for the presidency has lingered in New Hampshire long enough to vote as a resident, might turn it red, gaining 4 votes. Obama, however, has reasonable hopes of winning Iowa (7), which Al Gore won by 4,144 votes out of 1,315,563 cast in 2000. Bush won it in 2004 by 10,059 out of 1,506,908 cast. And Obama's estimated 90,000 caucus votes this year almost equaled the combined118,167 won by Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, McCain, Ron Paul and Rudy Giuliani, who finished in that order.
If you could combine the rigid tedium of a Rubick's Cube with the self-fulfilling theatrics of a Ouji Board, you'd have something resembling our Electoral College system. Now pause and re-read the above passage. Will shuffles around candidates, votes, mutually exclusive primaries and caucuses, election years and whole states like so many pennies and nickels. If you took 13 of the top 15 cities in 4 of the top 7 states in which Romney beat McCain's share of single black college educated military vets, then you could reasonably bet that Obama would win 51% of Missouri, assuming there will be low humidity on election day. If you think I'm exaggerating, consider this crowning factoid in which George runs out of things to count and just starts counting the punctuation within his earlier counting:
4.That is the number of commas in the total number of possible combinations of jurisdictions that can give a candidate 270 or more electoral votes. The votes disposed by the jurisdictions range from 1 (the Maine and Nebraska congressional districts) to 3 (seven states and the District of Columbia) to California's 55, with 17 different numbers between three and 55.
So if I read that right, it looks like a Nader landslide.


Judging from his sterile, mathematical world-view, I can only assume George Will is an ardent Ron Paul supporter. Like other functioning autistics, libertarians can engage and enjoy life -- but only when it is safely quantified. All human interaction must be rendered in airtight Newtonian equations. None of that messy, irreversible heat exchange, thank you very much. That wouldn't add up on the libertarian ledger. Your right brain is just more vestigial overgrowth like the appendix or male nipples.

So when it comes time to tell the story of your life, stick to the numbers like George did when he met 107-year-old veteran Frank Buckles. This man fought in the Great War and no doubt has a rare perspective on life, death, warfare and America. But we needn't go into that subjective dickering because did you know that:
He was born in February 1901, seven months before President William McKinley was assassinated. If Buckles had been born 14 months earlier, he would have lived in three centuries. He has lived through 46% of the nation's life ...
But god-dammit, he just couldn't birth himself any sooner. Sorry kids! I was an inch away from an even greater feat of numerical novelty, but may parents didn't think to fuck like it was 1899. Imagine the possibilities!

I can't imagine what Will will write in his own memoir, apart from a repeated incremental tally of the words he has written as he is writing them. His father was a philosophy professor (who taught with David Foster Wallace's father) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. So how does a man of such cultural pedigree believe that the high water mark for playwriting begins with Henry V and proceeds without interruption to the musical Damn Yankees? I won't bother to fight for due recognition of Sam Beckett, Sarah Kane, or Tony Kushner -- but surely he's heard of Hamlet and a Streetcar Named Desire, right? How in the world did little George escape home with such vapid, incurious taste? Why does his range of inquiry rarely venture outside that which can be counted, killed, eaten, or bludgeoned with a bat?


ACCORDING TO MY FIGURES, YOU CANNOT BE OFFENDED BY THE FOLLOWING

The average American penis measures 5 to 7 inches in length, when erect. I sincerely hope that George performed a thorough vaginal excavation before he got married. Because if I've done my math right ... math is all there is to it. This compulsion to reduce everything (a life story, elections, erections) to that which can be arithmetically validated has a credible etiology. The harsh, punishing superego is the source of all rigid moral judgments. It flourishes and dominates at the simplest level of abstract thought: binary opposition. Either-Or. Good-Evil. Man-Woman. Democrat-Republican. When everything can be reduced to the binary (and through this binary code, an infinity of opportunities for self-validation), you only need to trouble your brain with the accounting and accumulation of whatever phenomena crosses your senses.

It's all in the numbers: Barack Obama will win, Frank Buckles is really old, size matters most, money equals speech. That is the founding psychosis of capitalism and therefore it should be no surprise that this unrepentant Reaganite has little else to offer his readers on any given subject. So how long before the Washington Post editorial staff takes up the George Will Method and does the cost-benefit analysis of paying a columnist salary for something any 99-cent calculator can accomplish?

Playwright and blogger Matthew Freeman probably didn't intend to satirize Mr. Will when he wrote the Cop character in When Is A Clock. But read the following monologue out loud and see if you don't hear the same dour fixation elevated -- as only an artist can -- to the realm of hilarity and insight:
COP: Crime statistics. The average person is married twice, and the average marriage contains seven steps, and the average marriage has around two children and the average child of those marriages spends an average of four hours watching two to four television programs on five nights a week. More than half of that time is spent watching violent crime, and of the twelve courtroom dramas currently dominating the networks prime time slots, they watch 276 variations of criminal actions, based on a 23 episode season. That is only counting the central act of criminality within the drama, not counting ethical lapses or more minor crimes in support of, or to dispel, the central crime in question.

(Pause)

When, when, when you expose one half of one half of all Americans to four hours of around three hundred murders, rapes, kidnappings and assaults over the course of a season of television, you’re going to create precisely, and we have this figure available on our website, around 500,000 potential major felons a night, of which exactly 45,678 will commit crimes within ten years of right now. That is the crime that is directly pulled from national data on the citizenry that watches television regularly.

(Pause)

How should we find your wife? With all this happening just because of television?

(Pause)

What about red tape and just overall numbers? Every second, 200 babies die in this county alone. 200 babies. Die. In this county alone. Three hundred people lose watches every ten minutes in 38 states. There are 20 different versions of the law that protects three different ethnicities from twelve kinds of discriminatory lending practices. Food poisoning, from nearly 600 controlled substances, just hit the digestive system of two women. As we spoke. Their names are Janet and Janet. Both of them named Janet. What are the odds? Actually, very, very good, if you consider how improbable a life-sustaining atmosphere even is. 89 times, in the course of just walking in this door, I envisioned a crime committed against me by a person that worked in an orphanage when I was only nine. Why did I see that in my mind so often? Biological signals sent from my brain, sense-memory. 91 times now. It just keeps happening. That person was never arrested, but was killed. You can’t prove how. How could you? There’s just too much to keep track of.

(Pause)

Over the course of the last month, it was discovered that people’s names were being spelled in a wantonly confusing way but a large number of ethnic minorities in order to confound governmental databases. You think it’s easy to track people by way of their social security number? Of course you’d think so? That’s because you don’t know that there are two million people in this country whose social security number is precisely the same as two million other people. How do you think that affects their records when they die? It’s not pretty. Of course it’s not pretty. In fact, despite what you may believe, according to Federal Databases, because of this Social Security glitch, more than half of those four million people are deceased. 14 million Mexicans just entered this country. 15 million. 16 million. All without social security numbers, most of them less than 5 feet 5 inches tall. How are we going to find them and bury them? Do we just toss them in the Pacific Ocean? No, no we don’t. That’s how we hope to fuel agriculture. But there are so, so many. So many.

(Pause)

Where is your wife? Tennessee?

GORDON: Pennsylvania.

COP: How, for fuck’s sake, can you be so sure?
NEXT WEEK: How to write your own Charles Krauthammer column! Get your finger paint ready!

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