Saturday, December 20, 2008

Political Numerology

I have been following issues on this blog for a while and have come to the conclusion there is a connection between politics and numerology- a mystical belief in the power of numbers. I have observed many cases of the belief that just picking the right numbers is all that's needed to solve a difficult problem. Our school system provided a good example.

Early in the discussion on the last bond, there seemed to be a belief that a $99mil bond would pass no matter what was in the package. A package tailored to that exact amount was the initial proposal. Toward the end of the decision making cycle, it was felt that two was a better number of propositions than one so a second proposition based on major new main building at Central was added. They were careful not to disturb the magic $99mil of the first proposition.. A necessary, last minute recalculation of construction costs and inflation estimates raised the cost of both propositions. They made the decision to keep prop 1 the same despite the price now being $117mil.. Prop 2 was another story. The new price was felt to be too high. Rather than completely abandon the power of the number two, prop 2 was completely redone. Prop 1 had coherence, and the original prop 2 had a vision of a much revitalized central campus. The new prop 2 had neither of these characteristics. It had little in the way of coherence or vision – coming across as a mixture of unrelated leftovers. In the end, the numerology didn't work and prop 2 failed.

Numerology seemed to drive at least part of the decision making process. One of the first items the new facilities committee announced was the $99mil figure. This was well before they announced the schools or projects involved. Prop 2 was added toward the end of process because it was felt that 2 bonds might have a better chance of success. The second proposition was kept even when the original vision no longer applied. In the end it seems the mystique of magic numbers drove a large part of decision making process, if only at a subconscious level.

There are many more examples where just picking the right number is counted on to solve a problem. Forget the studies, logic, analysis, etc.. The magic number will solve the problem. Mandatory minimums aren't working? We just need a better number. Teen drunk driving a problem? Pick a number. Economy collapsing? A few magic interest numbers will save the day. Puppy mills a problem? Just choose a number of dogs. Don't worry about studies or history or precedent or inconvenient evidence. The power of numerology will magically provide the solution and if the resulting solution doesn't work, don't worry. Forget studies. Just pick another number.

In January, a proposal for a numerical limit on dogs will be back before Animal Services Board. It will be put before the City Council in early February. We need to make sure this doesn't end up being just another case of political numerology.


  1. Let me pick up a thought from this post going back to the "Open Government" of Dec. 9.

    San Angelo city gov't in general is doing a good job of "open gov't", making things available on the web. Meetings, agendas, committee members, etc. all in a format a manic poster can access at 2:00 AM.

    Animal Control is not in that "general". I have no basis on which to ascribe results to motive, but that aside, web-searching animal control is pretty much a waste of time, there isn't any real info out there.

    Council kicked this dog number limit to this committee to take comment, consider it, and give Council advice. Early on, I suggested at least one evening session to allow working pet owners a shot at being heard. This was received politely enough, with a "We are thinking about that", but if the committee is actually DOING it, they have yet to communicate it to the public.

    Council deferred action due to high public interest. I am hoping that committee is going to make their deliberations as open as possible on an issue of interest.

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