Questionable Physics--Worse Politics

The Uncertainty Principle is one of the fundamental limitations of physics: it applies to the study of small particles such as electrons. Somewhat like women, these particles exhibit a duality of nature inexplicable to mortal men. They, under certain conditions, obey classical laws that describe the motion of bullets, projectiles, and planets. Under other conditions, they resemble wave packets with measurable frequency and wavelength.

The term, Uncertainty Principle, sounds a trifle arcane, but the basic concept is easily grasped by anyone. If one knows precisely the momentum of such a particle, its position cannot be determined with great accuracy. Conversely, if one knows exactly where the particle is, its momentum can't be accurately specified. In equation form, which we won't bother with at all, it is expressed as, delta p times delta x equals or is greater than h. p is the term for momentum, mass times velocity. x is location. h is Planck's constant.

Now why have I gone to these lengths in my opening paragraphs to describe something that has already cost me half my reader base? If I had not wearily thrown in the sentence about women, I would have lost them all. Easy! I am talking about politics and, specifically, media coverage of the New Hampshire primary.

The introverted, intelligent, socially clumsy men and women who traditionally performed physics experiments set up innovative, often brilliant schemes to carefully measure their results. For centuries, the concept worked well and delivered believable, repeatable results. And then, when the particles to be measured got extremely small, things fell apart. It turned out that the instrumentation and measuring tools were disturbing the measurements and the outcomes of the experiments. At that point, faith replaced empirical science, and quantum mechanics evolved. Shortly after, theoreticians deduced, mathematically proved, and published the Uncertainty Principle.

America's political system, as exemplified by the way our primaries are held, has reached much the same point. Measurement of what is happening is seriously disturbing both the process and the results. To illustrate what I mean, ten or more TV crews follow the hot candidates around, effectively isolating them from interaction with the voters. Staged video strips become the norm. Candidates are unable to determine the basic issues troubling voters. Voters aren't able to meet with, interrogate, and draw valid conclusions about the candidates.

These conditions prevail all over the country, but are uniquely protrayed in the snows of New Hampshire. Candidates complain, voters complain, and even anchormen comment how intractable the problem has become. We cannot do what was done to restore order in physics: depend upon a leap of faith. Democracy depends on an intelligent, perceptive electorate understanding the issues and people for whom they are voting, then making informed judgments. Religions have as their very soul and basis, a deep, abiding, and serene faith. It makes chancy physics and extremely bad politics.

We have turned our primaries into a disgraceful media chase similar to what trails the British royal family. Nothing except an incensed public that makes its feelings known to the networks can change it. I invite, really implore, all caring readers to contact the newspapers they read and the TV networks they watch with their views about media coverage on America's presidential campaigns.

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Sam Orr

World Traveler

and Philanthrope

(Location Unknown)