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Do you frequently get the feeling that someone talking on TV or radio is not really the pundit or sage news analyst they purport to be, but a complete moron instead? Watching coverage of the State of the Union address, I did, twice. I was struck by the speakers seeming total inability to count. You know, "One, two, three...".

I sat bolt upright when Jon Stewart discussed the speech and said that it was Barack Obama's "second State of the Union message". What? Can't these people count? The President has been in office for just two years, but this was his third annual address.

President Obama was inaugurated on January 20, 2009. A month later, on February 24, 2009, he addressed a joint session of Congress in the traditional annual address of the President at the beginning of the year. An outgoing President doesn't generally make such an address before leaving office; the new President does the job shortly after taking office. Presidents Bush and Obama adhered to this tradition. That's one.

On January 25, 2010, Obama addressed a joint session of Congress to report on the state of the union. That's two.

On January 25, 2011, Obama addressed a joint session of Congress to report on the state of the union. That's three, right?

Well, as it turns out, Stewart was technically correct because the address given by a newly inaugurated president isn't considered a true "State of the Union" message. Reporting on the past year would be the province of the previous president, who is no longer in office, and thereby has no business before a joint session of Congress. OK. Fine.

What I just learned looking this up is that a one-term president only makes three State of the Union addresses, not four, and a two-term president makes seven, not eight. Yet, I'll bet if you ask any knowledgeable person about how many of these addresses a president makes, you would get answers of "four" and "eight". One thinks, "One address per year and a term is four years, ergo, four addresses per term." That's close, but not exactly right, though.

Stewart did mention something about the first address to a joint session of Congress in 2009, but he didn't dwell on it. As I held the common belief that all four addresses made in a president's term count as a "State of the Union message", I thought he was falling victim to the common "off by one" error that many people make. Did Stewart think this? "He's been in office for two years, so this must be his second address."

The most common manifestation of the inability to count I have seen is in the ballyhoo about television shows that are renewed for another year. If the show is to be aired for, say, the fifth year in a row, there is always an interview on at least one of the tabloid shows that invariably goes like this.

"Wow, Chet! Your hit show Weaselmania has just been renewed for its fifth season. How does it feel to be number one on television for five years?"

"Well, you know, Felix, we just take it one show at a time."

Every time I hear that, I start screaming at the Chinese flat screen behemoth in the living room, "It's four years, you moron! He's just starting the fifth one! Jesus! Can't anyone count any more?" I get upset about this because I spent over 30 years being scrupulous about counting things in my so-called "career" as a computer scientist.

No, most people can't count. If you ask how many years elapsed between the same date in 5 B.C. and 5 A.D., they will invariably give you the wrong answer, "ten", instead of the right answer, "nine". They forget that there was no year zero. Thus, adding the absolute value of the two years does not yield the correct time span. If the calendar had been set up by a modern computer scientist, there would have been a year zero, and such calculations would have been easily made. Alas, there were very few computational engineers in those days, and most of them still counted starting with one rather than zero, like this, "I, II, III, IV....." They didn't even have zero, actually.

This is the other side of that trick question your math teacher used to ask, "How many birthdays have you had?" Most people state their age in whole years as a response. Then, that smirking pedant would mockingly point out that you were born on your birthday, at age zero, so the correct answer is one more than you indicated. Do you remember how angry that used to make you? Duh. You were not asked how old you were, but you equated your age with birthday parties, as well as with paper hats, toy horns and cake.

Perhaps reacting to that chestnut is why people habitually get it wrong the other way, automatically adding one when subtracting dates to calculate a time span. Somehow, they must fear forgetting about the first one. While such an error is understandable, it's just wrong and really stupid. A time span and the number of regular occurring events encompassed by that time span is not the same number. The span is a measurement of a continuous phenomenon, time, and the number of events, points in time, is a discrete (i.e., non-continuous) integral value.

There is a distinct difference between digital and analog phenomena, and it is important to maintain the distinction. Otherwise, you run the risk of getting it wrong. It may seem overly technical and obscure to phrase it that way, so you can think of it in terms of more familiar objects if you wish. You can make mashed potatoes from dried granules in a package or from whole potatoes. If you use the mix (analog), you measure out, say, a cup of granules. If you want to use fresh potatoes (discrete), you count out how many you will need to peel, cook and mash to yield the same amount of food. The granules are too small to count individually, so we switch to analog measure when we deal with massed quantities. The result in either case is a pan full of mashed potatoes, but the principal ingredient can be dealt with in an analog or discrete manner. Once you get that concept, thinking correctly about time spans and counting discrete events gets a lot easier.

But, let's get back to the State of the Union address, especially the commentary following it. As President Obama spoke, the sinister, menacing specter of the newly installed Speaker of the House, the Honorable John Boehner of Ohio, glowered over Barack's slender left shoulder. I could barely contain my disgust and indignation that sweet, clever, hard-working Nancy Pelosi would not be in that seat for the fifth -- yes, I can count -- successive time. My chagrin was enormous; my heart inconsolable. Why? How could this supercilious popinjay have risen to such an exalted rank? Had the electorate gone mad? (Well, yes, but we'll talk about that some other time.)

After the address, I was switching around, listening to different takes on the speech, so I can't remember who said it. While showing a clip before the President started talking, a commentator repeated the most common off-by-one statement in American politics. "Seated behind the President are Vice President Biden, the President of the Senate, and Speaker of the House John Boehner, third in the line of succession to the Presidency." Aaaaaaauuuuuuggggghhhhh!!!!!

I jumped up and started throwing (aptly named) throw pillows, magazines and anything else that I could find that would not damage my girlfriend's prized LCD display television. I was screaming, "He's second in the line of succession, you ignoramus, right after the Vice President! If he's third, who the hell is second? Is it the gremlin seated on the ottoman between the V.P. and the Speaker? Is it that we can't see him (her?) because the ottoman is so low and the desk is so high? Can't these idiots count? Jesus!"

What gets my goat is not that anyone makes this mistake, but that no one ever corrects anyone else who makes the mistake on the air. Have you noticed that? People say this all the time and no one ever says, "Well, actually, he's second. The Vice President is first, then the Speaker of the House. It's the President Pro Tempore of the Senate who's third in the line of succession. Then, you start in with the cabinet in the order that the posts were created." Don't you wish that, at least once, someone would upbraid whatever ignorant blockhead uttered that absurd statement? I do.

We hear this egregious non-fact so often on the air, rattled off by smug hairspray journalists, that we balk instinctively when anyone says it right. Try it. I have, several times, just to test my hypothesis. While you're discussing some current political issue, say, "The Speaker of the House, who is second in the line of succession to the President..." Invariably, your conversational partner will say, "No, he's third in line!" If you stop right there and review the line of succession enumerating each official's ordinal position, the miscounting person will most likely say, "Whatever! You know what I mean!" If you remind them that they tried to correct you, and that they are totally full of shit, you may have to defend yourself with fisticuffs.

Herein lies an undeniable truth. Misinformed, ignorant people don't like to be corrected and take it as a personal affront when do. They never admit they are wrong, and they cannot be swayed by documented fact or reasoned discourse. They will vociferously defend their crazy, wrong, stupid ideas to their last breath.

Does this syndrome remind you of any political faction in today's political scene? Try discussing objective reality with a staunch Republican, especially one of those tea-bagging jackasses. Go ahead. Beat your head against the wall. Ask yourself, "Why can't they see the truth that's as obvious as the nose on one's face?" You know the answer to that. They're too stupid, and too crazy, to think. Arguing does nothing. To do what's in their best interest, you have to trick them into agreeing with you, just like the shameless demagogues who call the tune for them now.

Originally posted to DisgruntledCurmudgeon on Thu Jan 27, 2011 at 11:42 PM PST.


Which obvious truth is most difficult to argue with morons?

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20%6 votes
3%1 votes
3%1 votes
13%4 votes
0%0 votes
3%1 votes
3%1 votes
6%2 votes
6%2 votes
16%5 votes

| 30 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Bill W, PBen, Pluto, Youffraita, Mrs M, ozarkspark
  •  ROFLMAO (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Pluto, Mrs M, jan4insight

    I would vote in your poll, but you didn't offer All of the Above as an option.

    Thanks for a great read, though.

    A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul. -- George Bernard Shaw

    by Youffraita on Thu Jan 27, 2011 at 11:58:55 PM PST

    •  Co-sign :) n/t (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      "If we work in unity, we will achieve our goal." ~ Aung San Suu Kyi

      by jan4insight on Fri Jan 28, 2011 at 12:16:25 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Read the poll question closely. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Youffraita, Mrs M

      I said they were all obvious truths. No one reading DailyKos seems to refute that. What I want to know is when you try to convey these to idiots, which one is the hardest sell. I am trying to assess the principal locus of stupidity in this country so I can work on an antidote.

      •  I'm still sticking with (0+ / 0-)

        All of the Above.

        A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul. -- George Bernard Shaw

        by Youffraita on Fri Jan 28, 2011 at 12:58:37 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Tough. But I'd make one important point: (0+ / 0-)

        It is an impossibility to make un-forgeable, electronic ID cards of any sort, so the fact that we could deal with illegal immigration easily if it WERE possible is a total irrelevance -- it's just as true to say that if we had time travel, we could deal with illegal immigration easily.

        All the points are damned hard to argue with people, but the ones about money are the hardest.  People do not understand money.  The locus of stupidity relates to money.

        Read pp. 1-7 of Krugman's _The Great Unraveling_ (available from Google Books). NOW.

        by neroden on Fri Jan 28, 2011 at 02:24:31 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Hope that helps.... (0+ / 0-)

          knowing that the locus of stupidity is people's utter failure to understand the nature of money.

          I haven't found, myself, that it helps.  Getting someone to step one ("money is a shared illusion") is hard enough.  But once you get someone there they start believing right-wing libertarian nonsense, and you have a whole 'nother bundle of wrong ideas to push through just to get to step two ("just because it's a shared illusion doesn't mean it's not a good idea.  It's still a good idea.")  Step three, "We can manipulate this illusion to serve social policy," seems to only get through the heads of people who have comprehended the first two for months at least, perhaps years,

          And step four, explaining HOW money ACTUALLY works, is still not effective on most of them, as witnessed by the idiot right-wing economics professors!

          Read pp. 1-7 of Krugman's _The Great Unraveling_ (available from Google Books). NOW.

          by neroden on Fri Jan 28, 2011 at 02:28:58 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Money is the pivotal issue? (0+ / 0-)

          That is probably true. The reason I haven't yet tried to construct a rhetorical assault dealing with money per se is that I don't know that much about it from a technical point of view. Despite several courses in economics in both undergraduate and graduate curricula, I can't really claim to understand how money can be manipulated for political and social engineering purposes. It's as much a mystery to me as it is to working people who've never set foot in a college.

          If you read people like Paul Krugman and understand what they are saying, you're probably in a better position than I am to pontificate. I'll keep tabs on you to see if you come up with anything I can use in ministering to the hoi polloi. I've taken that as my mission because such low-information working people are the bulk of the "swing vote" that sways all our elections now. I've got to figure out how to get to these people and make them see the light.

          Keep the faith, neroden.

        •  Not so fast, there, sparky. (0+ / 0-)

          So, "it's an impossibility," is it? Really? At no time in the near future will we ever be able to have some kind of ID that's certifiably valid and can't be faked? That's really a stupid idea, and it would be even stupider of me to accept that as a premise that we can't do anything to control foreigners within our borders.

          First off, what you say is pure bullshit. We now have lots of ID that can't easily be faked. These identity cards are not generally distributed in this country, but they could be if we wanted to. I've worked in secure government facilities, like the National Security Agency and military bases. Believe me. You don't get in there unless they know you are you. We had to have some pretty fancy ID cards, and that was 30 years ago.

          Now, they have chips in the cards that have all kinds of information, like a key to an on-line database with up-to-the-minute information on you. That means that you could be trying to get in to see the consul at a US consulate in Istanbul and they could know that you had gotten a parking ticket in Chicago just before you left for Turkey. My new passport has embedded electronics in it, so I'm already covered by this type of "non-forgeable" ID.

          If we issued the type of ID I have inside my passport to anyone legally entering the US, we could prevent anyone who didn't have such an ID from working or even staying here. You could have readers for the electronic ID in every police car. So, don't tell me we can't control immigration if we wanted to. When I was in Europe 36 years ago, you couldn't work in most places if you didn't have the right kind of documents. We could have done the same then, and we could do it any time we want now.

          Secondly, the only reason we don't have this kind of close control over aliens within our borders is that the corporate interests controlling our economy and the government like it that way. With no control over aliens, they can exploit them and break labor unions.

          I do agree with you that money is more important than just being able to count. This was a humorous piece sparked by my observation that the inability to count seems to correlate well with the inability to follow a logical chain of thought.

  •  Speaking of numbers... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Have you seen the email that's making the rounds again recently that points out the following:

    If you add the last two numbers of your birth year to the age you will become THIS year, the result is 111. For EVERYONE!

    Cue Twilight Zone theme track, and be very afraid.

    "Republicans benefit from the fact that memories are short and statutes of limitations shorter." - Bob Herbert

    by WisePiper on Fri Jan 28, 2011 at 12:05:52 AM PST

  •  Obama has made four appearances (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    to joint sessions of Congress. The address shortly after he took office, two SOTUs, and the one where he had to go to Capitol Hill and admonish Congress to grow up and get shit done.

    All the pundits I've listened to have correctly stated that Obama has appeared four times before Congress.

    Not this mind and not this heart, I won't rot • Mumford & Sons

    by jayden on Fri Jan 28, 2011 at 12:13:17 AM PST

    •  Thanks! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      You obviously listen to a better class of commentary than I do. I listen to a lot of idiots just to have an excuse for a curmudgeonly tirade. I also talk to the lumpen proletariat a lot, trying to take the pulse of the common man. I hear a lot of really, really stupid stuff.

  •  Hard to choose (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Oh Mary Oh

    from your poll options, well done.

  •  I feel your pain. (0+ / 0-)

    Ugh. For me, the counting deficiency comes up in calculating time. The (mostly) young employees simply cannot count their hours worked correctly. Of course, that plays into the not understanding money theme also. When it comes to getting paid, don't you think you would try to be extrememly accurate about the amount of time you worked?

    One of them regularly works from 10am - 5pm and she writes "5 hours" for her total. When I ask her about this, she says, "but 10 minus 5 is five." uh huh. good. YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG DUMBASS!

    thanks. enjoyed your rant.

  •  There are 10 kinds of people in the world. (0+ / 0-)

    Those who count in binary, and those who don't.

    Having said that, I very much enjoyed your rant.

    •  I've heard that one! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Bill W

      My son the CS major told me that joke about a year ago. I like to think that I set him on the path to thinking that way, and being able to get that "10" in base 2 is 2. As soon as he learned how to talk, I taught him to "count to less than ten" as a show-off stunt for visitors. He would impress people by saying, "0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9". It used to crack me up when people would try to correct him, starting the sequence with "one" and ending with "ten". I would jump in and defend him, "No! He's got it right! I said LESS THAN ten!" Then, my genius boy would laugh, and I would pick him up and swing him around. He liked that. I taught him hexadecimal when he was about six. As a college student, he has now come over to the dark side, just like his old man. It's my fault; I know. But, I also know that he'll never starve and will never have to work at Starbucks.

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