Reduction to the Worst


Back when Katy Freeway was under construction, I’d entertain myself by reducing the telephone numbers on service trucks and 18-wheelers to just one number. It’s a very simple game. Take a phone number, 555-555-5555, for example, and add the numbers, get a sum, and keep adding the numbers until you get just one number. The cool thing about it, is that—no matter how you add things up, it always reduces to the same number.

5+5+5+5+5+5+5+5+5+5 = 50 --> 5+0 = 5
55+55+55+55+55 = 275 --> 2+7+5 = 14 --> 1+4 = 5
or 27+5 = 32 --> 3+2 = 5
555+555+5555 = 6665 --> 6+6+6+5 = 23 --> 2+3= 5

Et cetera.

And, don’t go off thinking there’s something special about the number 5 here.  There’s not. It works with any set of numbers, in any order.

3+4+5+2+3+4 = 21 --> 2+1 = 3
34+52+34 = 120 --> 1+2+0 = 3
33+4452 = 4,485 --> 4+4+8+5 = 21 --> 2+1 = 3

It’s fascinating, and I even jokingly called it the Choate Theorem for a while (for any multi-digit number, there is only one single-digit reduction). I’m not a mathematician by any stretch (obvious because I wasn’t doing anything more complicated than adding stuff up), so I have no idea if this stuff has any deeper significance to our existence. Probably, because supposedly the “random” distribution of primes might mimic atomic structure? Or something? I skimmed that article, so I don’t know.

Distilling things to their essence.  By Oyoyoy [CC BY-SA 3.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons

And I also haven’t found any sort of use for this thing other than parlor games and really effective cryptography—so effective it can’t be decrypted at all. “I love you” can be expressed simply as “7,” but unpacking everything that “7” is made of is, as far as I can tell, impossible. Your kid’s not going to understand what you mean when you say “seven” as she’s getting out of the car at the drop-off line, unless she knows that “seven” is code for “I love you.” So, it’s not really very useful if you’re trying to send secret messages.

“Sir! We have a message from our contact in Nizhny Novgorod!”
“What does it say?!”
“3, sir.”
“What does that mean…?”
“Beats me, sir, but the message is ‘3.’”

Since this entire post reduces to just one number (someone else will need to do that), obviously, it’s not useful for sending intelligence.
Still! It’s a fun game, and a way to get you to stop thinking about the fact you’re averaging a mere 15 miles an hour, and griping that it’d be really nice if Houston’s climate allowed for biking to work. Or that we had a rail system that was worth a damn. (Looking at you, Culberson.)

Reduction of our Political Discourse

Similarly, the complex and thorny issues facing our country are getting reduced to smaller and smaller ancillary questions, and answering those tangential questions with either a “yay” or a “nay” makes all the difference, even though the fuller picture is far more important.

Look at the Trump-Russia thing. Trump and his surrogates have successfully reduced the investigation down to “was there collusion?”
What’s so irritating about asking whether there was “collusion”? Well, for starters, it’s the equivalent of saying “seven.” Etymologically, “collusion” means “to play together.” Over the centuries, it has come to take on a more sinister connotation, and so now we understand that there’s a bit of subterfuge and concealment involved in “collusion.”

Collusion is a Red Herring

The problem with this, however, is that there are very few crimes or proscribed acts which prohibit “collusion” as a term. It shows up in a handful of regulations, and in a couple of statutes about bribery and narcotics trafficking. For the most part, though, “collusion” isn’t something that is proscribed or even discussed. Instead, the same activity is captured by the term “conspiracy” (etymologically: breathing together) which is really just an agreement to do something illegal.

Using the archaic term “collusion,” however, allows the discourse to be about “collusion” and how “they haven’t shown collusion.”

This is frustrating because “collusion” isn’t even what the Special Counsel is investigating. In fact, the Special Counsel isn’t even investigating “conspiracy.” The Special Counsel’s mandate is very clearly defined by the Department of Justice, and it is quite broad.

The Special Counsel’s Mandate

DOJ Order 3915-2017, pertinently, states:

  • A) Robert S. Mueller III is appointed to serve as Special Counsel; and
  • B) He is to conduct an investigation into 3 areas:
    • 1) “any links and/or coordination” between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign;
    • 2) any matters that arise directly from the investigation; and
    • 3) any other matters that come up pursuant to some regulations.

That’s it. The Special Counsel is investigating links and/or coordination, and some narrow other matters. By this mandate, the Special Counsel has definitely found evidence of the first prong (Donald Trump, Jr. confirmed the damned meeting at Trump Tower himself) and Paul Manafort’s conviction and guilty plea is covered by the second prong. (It appears that the Special Counsel has been sending other things out to other jurisdictions, such as the Michael Cohen plea, and the Maria Butina prosecution.)

Reduction for Political Survival

In the face of the Special Counsel’s investigation, and as a matter of political survival, the discourse has been reduced down to “only if they show that Putin and Trump signed an agreement in blood will I consider doing anything. Even then, though, get real. Lolz, my donors got their tax break, cash money!$$!” With this so-far-successful media manipulation, every other outrage gets tossed to the side.

I mean, the list of controversies surrounding this guy (Trump, in case you couldn’t figure it out) is almost endless, and I’m sorely tempted to recreate them here, and it’s not even been two years yet. But, as long as he didn’t do a pinky-swear with Putin, he’s all good.

Choirboy Reduction Sauce

You see the same reduction to a single issue with the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination debacle.

Balsamic reduction from Chris Dlugosz Flickr. License.

When Kavanaugh finished the public hearings last week, the only real controversy that remained was his candor to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

When he began the nomination process, he told the same sort of Dear-Leader lie everyone else tells when they get around Trump, because that’s what he like to hear.  (There’s no chance in Hades that Trump “has consulted more widely, or talked with more people from more backgrounds” than any previous President). It was cheap nonsense, and obviously made Trump feel oh-so-very accomplished.

It was just a preview, however, to the lack of candor he would show to the Committee when it came to his role in receiving stolen Democratic Senators’ emails, his work on warrantless wiretapping, his work on Bush-era torture policies, and his work on the nominations of two federal judges. Among other things.

At the end of the process, admittedly, not much had stuck.  Even though, arguably, as a licensed member of the DC Bar, he owes an ethical duty of candor to tribunals. But no matter, since he’s assuredly a solid vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. And rule in favor of corporations over humans. And think that racism is behind us. And. 

From the horse race crowd, what really seemed to matter was whether any Red State Democrats were going to feel the need to vote for him for reelection purposes.

A Wrench in the Gears

But then came Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. And all of a sudden, all that matters is whether her allegations are credible. Gone are the concerns about Kavanaugh’s role as a political operative, gone are concerns about his candor, gone are his views on abortion.

Now.  The populace is pretty done with this guy. FoxNews has a startling poll showing that he’s at -10 approval.  Which is unheard of. The sad thing, though, as we wait to see what happens when Dr. Ford testifies this coming Thursday, is that all that will matter is whether Senators think he sexually assaulted her or not. If the answer is “no,” his ascension will probably be bolstered by some Democrat votes. (Hell, even if the answer is “yes,” he might skate through anyway, though the daily accumulation of complainants makes that all the more distasteful.)

What to Do With All This



“I love you” Key

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