[Paleopsych] Dowd: Don't Know Much About Algebra

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Don't Know Much About Algebra
Liberties column by Maureen Dowd, The New York Times, 5.1.20

Lawrence Summers, the president of Harvard, has been
pilloried for suggesting that women may be biologically
unsuited to succeed at mathematics.

He may have a point.

Just look at Condoleezza Rice.

She's clearly a
well-educated, intelligent woman, versed in Brahms and the
Bolsheviks, who has just been rewarded for her loyalty with
the most plum assignment in the second Bush cabinet.

Yet her math skills are woefully inadequate.

She can't do
simple equations. She doesn't even know that X times zero
equals zero. If you multiply 1,370 dead soldiers times zero
weapons of mass destruction, that equals zero achievement
for Ms. Rice, who helped the president and vice president
bamboozle the country into war.

Was Condi out doing figure eights at the ice skating rink
when she should have been home learning her figures? She
couldn't have spent much time studying classic word
problems: If two trains leave Chicago at noon, one going
south at 20 miles an hour and one going north at 30 miles
an hour, how far will each have gotten by midnight?

Otherwise, she might have realized that if two cars leave
the Baghdad airport at noon on the main highway into the
capital of Iraq, neither one is going to get there with any
living passengers. Our 22 months at war have not added up
to that one major highway's being secured.

It's lucky for Ms. Rice that she's serving with men who are
just as lame at numbers as she is. Deputy Defense Secretary
Paul Wolfowitz couldn't be bothered to tally correctly the
number of dead soldiers when he testified before Congress.
And his boss, Donald Rumsfeld, didn't realize that using an
autopen signature on more than 1,000 letters to the
relatives of fallen troops added up to zero solace.

Our new top diplomat has obviously not mastered fractions.
When she asserted during her confirmation hearing that
120,000 Iraqi troops had been trained, Senator Joe Biden
corrected her, saying she was off by a bit. His calculation
of trained Iraqi troops was actually 4,000 - hers was 30
times that. Maybe she's confusing hyperbole and hypotenuse.

Her geometry is skewed if she thinks she'll now be more
powerful than Rummy and Dick Cheney. Doesn't she know that
the Pentagon has more sides than her Crawford triangle with
George and Laura?

She could at least have read "The Da Vinci Code." Then she
would have learned about Fibonacci numbers, a recurring
mathematical pattern in nature. When you invade a country,
you should expect an insurgency. Or, as Fibonacci might
have calculated it, if you kill one jihadist, two more
arrive to take his place; if you kill three, five more pop
up; if you get five, eight more appear, and so on.

The incoming secretary of state and her colleagues are,
alas, also lousy at economics. After Bush officials
promised that the postwar expenses would be covered by
Iraqi oil revenues, we find ourselves spending $1 billion a
week of our own money.

Ms. Rice and her fellow imperialists know so little about
physics that they arrogantly jumped into "spooky action at
a distance," turning the country they had hoped to make
into a model democracy into a training ground for
international terrorists, a nucleus for a new generation of
radioactively dangerous fanatics.

How could they forget Newton's third law: for every action,
there's an equal and opposite reaction?

The administration needs a lesson in subtraction. How do we
subtract our troops and replace them with Iraqi troops
while the terrorists keep subtracting Iraqi troops with car
bombs and rocket-propelled grenades?

Condi may not know Einstein's theory of relativity, but she
has a fine grasp of Cheney's theory of moral relativity.
Because they're the good guys, they can do anything:
dissembling to get into war; flattening Iraqi cities to
save them; replacing the Geneva Conventions with
unconventional ways of making prisoners talk. The only
equation the Bushies know is this one: Might = Right.

It is puzzling that if you add X (no exit strategy) to Y
(Why are we there?) you get W²: George Bush's second

At Condi's hearing, she justified the Bush administration's
misadventures by saying history would prove it right. "I
know enough about history to stand back and to recognize
that you judge decisions not at the moment, but in how it
all adds up," she told a skeptical Senator Biden.

Problem is, she's calculating, but she can't add. For now,
Sam Cooke is right about the Bushies. They don't know much
about history.

E-mail: liberties at nytimes.com


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