Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Remembering 2000

FOCS 2000 took place in Redondo Beach, just south of Los Angeles, November 12-14. Certainly some great results such as the Reingold-Vadhan-Wigderson Zig-Zag Graph Product Expander construction that would lead to Omer Reingold's Undirected Connectivity in Log Space. Mostly though I remember the discussions about the presidential election held the week before and whether we might find out our next president during the conference. Spoiler alert: We didn't

Consider the following viewpoints for a person X

1. Did X support Bush or Gore?

2. Did X interpret the rules of the election that Bush won or Gore won?

These should be independent events. Your interpretation of the rules should not depend on who you supported. But in fact they were nearly perfectly correlated. Whether you were a politician, a newspaper editorial page writer, a supreme court justice, a computer scientist or pretty much everyone else, if you supported Gore, you believed he won the election and vice-versa. Everyone had their logic why they were right and I'm sure my readers who remember that election still believe their logic was correct. 

As this upcoming election gets messy, as it already has, take care with trying to justify your desired endgame by choosing the logic that makes it work. Would you use the same logic if the candidates were reversed? Everyone says "yes" but it's rarely true. Just like Mitch McConnell, you'll just find some excuse why the opposite situation is different. Trust me, my logic is impeccable. 


  1. I don't know why 1 and 2 should be independent events. I think they should be strongly correlated.

  2. So I agree with your final conclusion that people should "take care with trying to justify your desired endgame by choosing the logic that makes it work."
    But the seeming implication that that's what happened in the Bush/Gore case seems quite strange; it seems completely plausible, perhaps even likely, that your understanding of certain political and/or philosophical questions would impact both who you supported and your understanding of legal issues relevant to deciding who won. There's no real reason to think these were instances of motivated reasoning.
    Correlation ain't causation.
    (Whereas McConnell's case does seem like clear-cut motivated reasoning and he should be ashamed of it.)

  3. During FOCS 2000, Broward County, Florida was still counting ballots and they were still re-counting until they were stopped, first shut down by the circuit court, re-instated by the state supreme court, and eventually shut down by the US Supreme Court.

    The big lesson from that is probably the success of the "running out the clock" strategy, which eventually was confirmed by the US Supreme Court and is a potential precedent for this year.

    The other thing I remember from FOCS 2000 were the rolling black-outs in the LA area, one of which interrupted Jeff Ullman's Knuth prize talk. This was during the infamous time during which it was later revealed that there were recorded calls from people from Enron arranging power plant shutdowns with express purpose of creating electricity shortages and hence engineered to raise electrical rates. (They stayed at record highs during the entire Winter of 2000-2001.)

    This brazen corporate conspiracy was just one example or corporate malfeasance that had major negative impacts on people's lives (and even our field) during this era. (Its discovery was followed by the Worldcom/MCI fraud in which Worldcom showed amazing profits from its fast-expanding networking operations, that companies like AT&T, Lucent, and Nortel Networks tried in vain to emulate by expanding to compete while cutting costs in the hopes of matching Worldcom. This prompted massive cuts in the research arms of AT&T research and Lucent and Nortel went bankrupt before all of this rolled out. The current AT&T is only as large as it is because the small shell of AT&T that was left got bought out Cingular Wireless and the valuable AT&T name use for the entire entity.

  4. Can someone explain why McConnell is being inconsistent?