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Observing Editor

One adventuresome atom

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As we move forward into the new season, we embark yet again on another doomed voyage into the belly of the body politic, which will in due course and through vigorous peristaltic action of the Electoral College deliver forth a renewed executive for the finest government in the world. This stirring display of the most hallowed traditions of democracy and mass marketing is not the subject of this column, except inasmuch as it gives rise to the groaning board of argument that we must stomach until November, larded ungraciously with unpleasant facts.

Facts! These annoying details of how matters happen to be constituted in the world at large have no decent place in political discourse, and our major parties have done much in the noble cause of eschewing the dulness of facts with the elegance of intimations, implications, and anathema.

Nevertheless, a fact or two can intrude jaggedly into the suavest discourse, and it is imperative that one knows how to neutralize the fact quickly and confidently. For the sake of this discussion, we will assume that you currently hold public office, in the legislative branch. Equivalent techniques can be used in the judicial and executive branches, and these are left as an exercise for the reader to elucidate.

Hypothetical: Suppose that you are in committee, advocating the allocation of funds toward two cherished goals: a memorial highway named for your immediate predecessor in office (budget: $2,000,000,000) and a new incendiary drone program to assist in forest fire prevention and crowd control (budget: $2,000,000,000). Another committee member, from the wrong party, objects, stating that four billion dollars are not available for appropriation. You naturally protest that four billion dollars have not been requested: You have a request for two billions for the highway, and a request for two billions worth of thermobaric death from the skies.

It is at this point that your colleague, now clearly your opponent, deploys a fact, i.e.

2 + 2 = 4

What to do?

First, retain your composure. Recognize that your opponent has failed to demonstrate that there is no money for your request. He has not shown you an empty vault at the Treasury, or pile of IOUs in the Secretary’s sock drawer, or the empty pockets of a chastened tycoon from the secret cabal of international financiers that controls the Fed. Rather, this sophist is attempting to make you look the fool with an arcane mathematical formula.

Resist! Recognize that this purported fact is a formula, which can be immediately disassembled through clever analysis. In the right frame of mind, the formula could lead you to an uncomfortable relationship between several of the natural numbers, but there is no reason that your opponent should find you in your right mind. A model response:

I strenuously object to that formula’s inclusion in the record, as it is a blatant and wanton misrepresentation of the facts of this matter. While I thoroughly support the ‘+’ sign, I am pro-+ and I cannot imagine any patriotic American could be otherwise, there are altogether too many ‘2’s. I only requested a single signifier ‘2’, as applied to each request, as is to be found in the set of natural numbers as a unique element, not the implausible and redundant pair of ‘2’s that adorns this so-called equation. Moreover, ‘4’, while noble enough on its own, barring those Chinese-speaking cultures that consider the number profoundly unlucky, has absolutely no place in a discussion of my eminently reasonable requests, each of which I limited to two and only two billions of dollars. I did not ask for a ‘4’, and I do not ask for one now.

Furthermore, I fail to see how ‘4’, whether or not it is admitted to the discussion, can have any material bearing when discussing appropriations in the billions. Much more germane are the eight orders of magnitude between my original request and this purported outrage of a ‘4’. I move that this remark be struck from the record and an immediate vote taken on the merits of my modest requests.

Whatever your opponent may introduce in the way of a ‘fact’, it is highly unlikely that a fact itself is before you. You may be faced with a mathematical formula, as above, or a statement, a photograph, a transcript, or an audit trail of your escapades through the FBI database. These are not facts. These are sequences of symbols that attempt to evoke facts through merely conventional associations. Be bold enough to smash these conventions, and these symbols have no power over you. They are no facts to be considered, if you do not admit them.