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Algebra and politics: A Marty Weil exclusive

Marty Weil is, I think, the only writer left at the Post who has been around longer than I have. He is the polymath hero of our night-side operation, able when necessary to write a story about anything in about three minutes. Here is a message he sent me last night:
"I was excited today to hear an application of ALGEBRA to politics:
in the 23rd congressional district of NY, 3,000 votes now separate the candidates; 10,000 absentee ballots remain to be counted; what percentage does the Conservative/Republican need to overcome the Democrat's lead?
(D plus C) =10,000; (C-D) =3,000 C=6500', so answer is Conservative candidate needs just over 65 pct of absentee ballots to win. Shows how algebra unconsciously figures in daily life."
I am not sure I understand the math, particularly the D + C =10,000, but I learned to trust Marty. At Class Struggle we welcome other examples of algebra affecting our routine existence.

By Jay Mathews  | November 18, 2009; 12:54 PM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  
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That's actually incorrect, since there were at least three candidates on the ballot. (D + C + R) = 10,000 and (C - D) > 3,000 for Hoffman to win. This condition would be satisfied if Hoffman received 3,001 votes, Scozzafava 5,999, and Owens 0. It would also be met if Hoffman received 6,501 votes, Scozzafava 0, and Owens 3,499. So, depending on Scozzafava's performance, Hoffman could win with a minimum of 30-65% of the vote.

Posted by: coreybower | November 18, 2009 5:41 PM | Report abuse

my thanks to coreybower. I will make sure Marty sees yr post, and anything else anyone wants to contribute.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | November 18, 2009 5:52 PM | Report abuse

Two points. The first a little math lesson. You C+D+R=10,000 (I'm going with Corey, since Scozzafova dropped out too late for her name to the ballot) because you reported the number of outstanding ballots as 10,000 and, assuming one must have voted for the conservative, the democrat or the republican, the total number of votes, 10,000, should be the sum of the number of votes cast for each of them.

More broadly, I am disappointed that you would be willing to admit you do not understand a problem that is required for Algebra when you are such an advocate of high standards for all. We cannot reach those high standards if students see and adults keep repeating how they do not understand some basic piece of mathematics. Either everyone really needs to understand mathematics in general and algebra in specific, or they don't. If they don't, and your admission that you can just trust Marty and not understand it yourself in this forum would suggest that YOU don't in particular, then stop trying to convince kids to do as you say, not as you do.

On the other hand, if we REALLY believe all kids need to know this (and I do believe that), then people like you, who have a public voice, should work to understand what you advocate kids should understand. I truly believe if you want to advocate for such policies, you should be able to pass the same tests these kids have to pass. The problem, as Marty laid it out, would be totally fair game on Achieve's Algebra II test. Thus, I implore you to not "brag" that you don't understand mathematics, and work to understand mathematics. There is a whiff of hypocrisy otherwise.

Posted by: kdking19 | November 19, 2009 8:01 AM | Report abuse

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