Saturday, April 24, 2010

Malicious Math

NUMBERS matter, I’ve learned during this election.

Recently, I joined a lunch where the “wander-full” conversation, as a companion quipped, competed with the dishes, and handily won.

Since I have no chance of being invited again in this city if I spill everything that flew thick and fast over Monday’s pomelo salad, I will just mention one fearless prediction that seems to be that oxymoron—an “open secret”—in a city genetically unable to hold secrets.

He will win.

My companions may mine a subterranean vein or two that’s barred from access by lesser mortals like me. I do understand, though, that part of their political prescience is anchored to that most ubiquitous feature: surveys.

In college, I took refuge in content analysis to avoid the toxic mathematics of making sense of surveys.

Today, surveys try very hard to be a voter’s best friend.

Poll meisters know how to serve the numbers to a Math-phobic public: rounded off, ranked, and dressed up with large fonts, photos and infographics.

What is it about numbers that make us seek to reduce them to simplest terms?

Why do we remember some combinations and forget others?

Why do we desire this number, feel accursed by another?

I remember the Terrible Twos, not only because that’s the exact number of beings I brought into this world. At two, my two sons had their complete set of primary teeth. At two, my second son was eager to show what he could do with all 20 teeth during nursing time.

But to be No. 2 is also to be in a terrible spot: in a survey, in a relationship of three, in Malacañang.

Last Friday evening, it took nearly two hours to connect from the heart of uptown Cebu to the quiet streets of our home.

I found myself decoding numbers spotted along the way, a reminder that May 10 is little more than two weeks away.

The jeepney we were tailing had its spare tire sporting a design that seemed faintly Egyptian or industrial: the number “8” with a tail that curled into the form of a “G”.

We deciphered the meaning before the stop light turned green, thanks to the proliferation of “G1bo” posters. “8G” stands for the No. 8 circle voters must shade on the ballot sheet if they want the administration presidential candidate Gilberto Teodoro Jr. to sit in Malacañang.

Will eight turn out to be good for Teodoro, political orphan, cuckolded No. 2 in the Villaroyo swapathon?

In Pulse Asia’s March 2010 survey, Teodoro had eight percent of the Visayas respondents rooting for him. This tied him with Joseph Estrada in the Visayas results. Nationwide, Teodoro is in fourth place, according to the same polls.

Near the Mandaue-Mactan Bridge, we followed the most morose lot of youths ever to hit the streets without adult supervision. One of the streamers being listlessly lifted a few inches from the asphalt was spraypainted “Deretso 3”.

It’s a “three” that may stand for three things. On the ballot for Lapu-Lapu City, shading the No. 3 circle means voting for incumbent Mayor Arturo Radaza as a future member of the House of Representatives.

But three’s company, too, in Mactan where wife Paz and nephew Harry want to be the next mayor and councilor, respectively.

For the third association, visit the YouTube website. Play the “Deretso 3 jingle MTV.”

The cute-as-buttons girl band, Wonder Girls, lends their catchy foot-tapping beat to a murky tale about Mactan’s “Corruption King, Bankruptcy Queen and Commissioner Prince.”

My Statistics teacher once tried to convince our class that “numbers are pure” after we all scored a perfect negative grade in her exam.

After barely surviving this season, my answer remains unchanged: “pure numbers, impure minds.”

( 0917-3226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu's Apr. 25, 2010 issue of "Matamata"

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