Coming up on our busy calendar is the twenty-fifth anniversary of our move here, to this town, in this house. I don’t think this is worthy of a celebration, more worthy of acknowledgement, long time spent in a place, the possibility of roots. But it did make me think about numbers–more as words than as arithmetic or math–and how we use and abuse numbers.

We look for the numbers that demark. We say I’m a quarter of the way there, not twenty four and nine tenths of the way there. We use numbers to qualify. I have noticed that until companies get to a significant number of years in business they put on their logos or truck the ‘since [year]’ which irritates me as it means I have to do some calculations in my head. Not fair! But those are their numbers so I can’t complain.

I read everything. Bad habits die hard. As a kid my Mom knew to never, ever, remove a cereal box from in front of me until I had read the entire box, including the ingredients–which is one of the reasons I rarely eat cold cereal because reading the numbers in the Nutritional Value box was terrifying, as in, Lipides, I’m eating LIPIDES????

I like numbers as words. In fourteen ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue, if it had been fourteen ninety-three, it would have been the boundless sea. Kinda fun. Dates are word reminders and memories of births, weddings and milestones. I can remember clearly my graduation from high school as June seven, nineteen hundred sixty four. But I can’t , for the life of me, give you the day or date, in nineteen sixty three of the JFK assassination. It all blurred into Thanksgiving and then into Camelot and Richard Harris singing ‘Don’t let it be forgot / That once there was a spot / For one brief shining moment / That was known as Camelot!’ Yes, cynical me-then came the Vietnam War, the anti-war protests, Civil Rights and more protests and The Great Society. Sigh.

As a kid I liked recitation–numbers, letters, months, days. You could get into a rhythm, there were even songs–and yes, I can not spell encyclopedia without sounding like Jiminy Cricket! I still say, “Thirty days hath September…” to make sure I have my calendar straight.

I like to use numbers, sorry, today we don’t them call numbers but data, to reinforce my critical thinking as well as my planning. I’ll take data. I like data when they are are just numbers who haven’t been abused. Data like, having my car serviced every six months or every three thousand miles–when ever comes first. Or data from my savings account when the bank tells me my interest earned is going up fifty basis points. I’d prefer one hundred, but I’ll take fifty in today’s economic environment.

I feel sorry for abused numbers that are data. Data that is used to lie. Data that is used by pundits, scientists, politicians and more to get their partisan point across, ripping them from their community, making them stand alone to prove an unprovable point, leaving them to defend what they can not. It is cruel.

Most abused data are statistics. Now, don’t get sweaty palms. Statistics are just numbers, oops, data that has been accessorized with jewelry like a percent sign, or a greater than or lessor than sign. Doesn’t make them any better or worse than numbers that are just plain. Sometimes I wonder if those data just want to throw away their jewelry and return to being useful and wanted.

I’ll give safe harbor to any former statistic that needs a sanctuary. We can sing a counting song–the ants went marching one by one hurrah, hurrah, or oooooh, my favorite, five little monkey jumping on the bed- one fell off and hit his head…. It’ll be fun!