Making More Decisions

          We are reminded regularly that the country is divided, but we have always had divisions. Who can forget the Civil War? Now there was a divided country. We have had, however, other divisions, often violent ones, including our many, many Indians wars as well as strife between labor and the plutocrats that took the lives of lots of mostly working people.

          Increasingly, however, we think of divisions that aren’t as stark or cause as much violence. A lot of that comes from politics where vote seekers dice the electorate into more and more groups. The New Yorker writer and Harvard history professor Jill Lepore in her book If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future suggests that 1960 was a turning point. Simulmatics, formed in the 1950s, was a little-known company with big dreams. It sought to collect data about voters and consumers, analyze the information by what was then new computer technology, and predict how people would vote. It tried to take credit for at least some of JFK’s success in winning in the 1960 election, but it is not clear that anyone in the Kennedy campaign saw the Simulmatics reports. I never fully comprehended what the corporation really accomplished other than its many public relations efforts to promote itself before it disappeared into bankruptcy in 1970. However, the book did make me think about the data I might like to collect if I were going to segment the American populace to better understand it for political purposes.

          Of course, we are aware of some categories that pundits and politicos already consider: race, age, education, and income and whether voters live in an urban, suburban, or rural setting. All useful information, but I would want to ask further questions.

          Religion, for example. That seems to be an important piece of information. What is your faith? Do you worship with an established denomination? Would you describe yourself as an evangelical? How often do you attend a House of Worship in a year? What percentage of your income do you give to charities? How much of that flows to non-religious charities?

          Where do you get your news?

          How many books do you read a year?

          What two sports do you most like to participate in? To watch? None is an acceptable answer.

          Do you play video games? Which ones? How often?

          How often do you go to a gym? How often do you otherwise exercise?

          How many sexual encounters have you had that you regret or want to apologize for? (Our questionnaire is, of course, confidential.)

          What social media accounts do you have? How much time do you spend each day with them?

Which is more important for preventing oppression by the government: free speech or possession of a gun? What rights are protected by the First Amendment? The Second Amendment?

How many guns do you own?

          How much money does a family of four need to live comfortably?

When in American history did Italians come to be considered “white”?

Have you ever had a mullet? If so, when was the last time?

Have you ever had teased hair? If so, when was the last time?

Do you find yourself feeling superior to someone with a mullet or teased hair?

Do you know what white guilt is? Have you personally experienced it?

What kind of vehicle do you drive? If you had more money, what kind of vehicle would you drive?

Have you ever been convicted of a felony?

Have you ever served a sentence in jail longer than 60 days?

If you don’t now, would you consider living in a manufactured home?

Do you live in a gated community?

Do you own your own home?

Do you know what stock options are? Have you ever owned a stock option? Do you own stocks or bonds?

          What kind of music do you most listen to?

Where did you buy your last pair of shoes?

Have you served in the military? If so, what rank did you achieve? If you have children or grandchildren of an appropriate age, would you encourage them to join the military?

Would you encourage your children or grandchildren to join law enforcement?

How was your last medical procedure paid for? How much did you have to pay out of pocket?

Define a bell curve, a t-test, statistical significance, a control group.

          Do you think that the following statement is correct?  “If you weren’t a little dirty at the end of the day, you weren’t much of a man.” (Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad.)

          What kind of shows have you binge watched?

When was the last time you went to a museum?

What podcasts do you listen to?

Do you agree with this statement? “The greatest pleasure I have known is to do a good action by stealth, and to have it found out by accident.” (Charles Lamb.) Has that ever happened to you?

First Sentences

“One winter morning several years ago, I got an email with some ridiculously exciting news.” A.J. Jacobs, The Puzzler: One Man’s Quest to Solve the Most Baffling Puzzles Ever, from Crosswords to Jigsaws to the Meaning of Life.

“The police decided to enter the flat, but rather than break down the door they called a locksmith, figuring that a few minutes either way were unlikely to make a difference.” The Shadow District by Arnaldur Indridason (translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb).

“At a recent lecture on the Piltdown disclosures a member of the audience remarked, ‘When I read in the paper that Piltdown man was bogus, I felt as if something had gone out of my life; I had been brought up on Piltdown man!’”  J.S. Weiner, The Piltdown Forgery.

“In my dream I was reaching right through the glass of the window on a hockshop.” Fredric Brown, The Fabulous Clipjoint.

“Magic matters.” David Copperfield, Richard Wiseman, David Britland, David Copperfield’s History of Magic.

“It is never easy to move to a new country, but in truth I was happy to be away from New York.” Katie Kitamura, Intimacies.

“A little before eight on the morning of March 21, 1829, the Duke of Wellington, England’s prime minister, arrived on horseback at a crossroads south of the Thames, about a half mile beyond Battersea Bridge.” Kwame Anthony Appiah, The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen.

“It’s hard to know, ever, where a story begins.” Jennifer Haigh, Mercy Street.

“We forget that love is revolutionary.” Tiya Miles, All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake.

“His cousin Freddie brought him on the heist one hot night in early June.” Colson Whitehead, Harlem Shuffle.

“The politics of inevitability is the idea that there are no ideas.” Timothy Snyder, The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America.

“It wasn’t far off midnight, but it was still light.” Ragnar Jónasson, Snowblind. (translated by Quentin Bates).

“’We need every one of you,’ proclaimed an anonymous 1985 article in a major white power newspaper.” Kathleen Belew, Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America.

“The dust hovers in a cloud behind the Reykjavik coach, the road is a ridged washboard and we rattle on; bend after bend, soon it becomes impossible to see through the muddy windows and, before long, the Laxdoela Saga trail will vanish into the dirt.” Auour Ava Olafsdóttir, Miss Iceland.

“Somewhere in the vast northern ocean, between Iceland and Norway, Thorsteinn Olafsson got himself involved in the biggest mystery of the middle ages by making an honest mistake: he turned his ship a few too many degrees west.” Egill Bjarnason, How Iceland Changed the World: The Big History of a Small Island.