Number of times Michael Dukakis has cried in public since announcing his candidacy: 2.
And we are off and indexing in Harper's magazine, letting numbers speak more acutely, more insidiously, more profoundly, than words.
In the entry above -- like those below, from "Harper's Index" for October -- the mind is invited to toy with a bare datum. We can conclude that Gov. Dukakis is not the bloodless technocrat he is supposed to be; we can surmise that the political climate for a candidate's tears is more clement than it was in 1972, when crying felled Edmund Muskie; we can wonder, "Hmmm, what did he cry about?"
"Harper's Index," introduced with the magazine's redesign and overhaul in March 1984, was an editorial masterstroke. It was that rare thing, an original idea, with immediate appeal and tireless potential. It was the uncluttered fact in its purest incarnation: the number. It enshrined quantity, the quintessentially American standard of value and virtue.
The Index, with its merry juxtapositions and ambiguous portents, is surely the first thing anyone reads in every issue, like the cartoons in The New Yorker; in a busy season, it may be the only thing.
Lewis Lapham, editor of Harper's and father of the Index, describes these numbers as "haikus, tiny Japanese poems," and observes that "we have a way of assigning statistics moral and metaphysical meaning."
Percentage of Americans who know CPR: 51.
Who know how to jump-start a car: 70.
Most major magazines are organized exactly the same way: They unfold like dinner in a restaurant. Beginning with a menu of contents, the reader moves from bite-size nuggets and aperitifs to light-bodied samplings to the meat and potatoes of major editorial preparations, leaving just enough room for a final sweet or savory item and a bracing hot gulp of rich prose.
There must be a stone tablet somewhere that ordains this arrangement, so it is no wonder that magazine editors are always yearning for unusual packages and imaginative formulas to make their material irresistible. And when they yearn, they cast their eyes on the competition.
Esquire, for instance, invented the annual "Dubious Achievement Awards" 25 years ago. Today, dozens of magazines have taken the concept and even the format (the little headline serving as preemptive punch line) and made it their own, and sometimes better than Esquire's. Determining the wealth of the very richest citizens (of a city or nation or planet) has spread from an intriguing novelty to a relentless staple of many magazines. Editors know a good idea when they steal one.
Number of countries that have claimed to have discovered America: 11.
Sons and daughters of "Harper's Index," their parentage obvious but unacknowledged, are ubiquitous already. When the question of copycats comes up, the magazine's vice president, Randall Warner, helpfully provides a sheaf of exhibits, categorized by the sternness of the parent magazine's reaction.
Under "we are amused" are listed such minor infractions as Regardie's swipe of a juicy pair of statistics from the October 1985 Index: Budget per episode of "Miami Vice": $1,500,000. Annual budget of the Miami vice squad: $1,100,000.
More blatant adaptations are listed under "we stopped them" (Boston Magazine) ... or "they discontinued" (The Los Angeles Times Magazine) ... or "they apologized" (Columbia Journalism Review). The last case was especially rich: a look-alike Index ("Then & Now"), with no nod to Harper's, in the anniversary issue of journalism's ethical watchdog. Harper's is taking a dim view, but holding its tongue, about such features as "Vital Statistics" in Hippocrates Newsletter and "Raw Data" in Playboy.
Harper's evidently resists the flattery implied in this rush to imitate the Index, but the bluster is probably futile. You can't patent the artful use of numbers. Once upon a time, printing letters from readers was considered a novelty; now every magazine but The New Yorker does it.
Number of the 254 newspaper reporters covering major league baseball who are black: 4.
Harper's has not been idle in wringing attention from the Index. A second sheaf of documents from the redoubtable Warner makes plain the global reach -- by paid arrangement, not sticky fingers -- of the Index itself.
Today Lapham and his colleagues can see the Index printed in Greek and Japanese letters; expressed in French and German; featured in newspapers across the United States under such local rubrics as "American Graffiti," "Did You Know That?" and "Parting Shots"; even zipping across electronic message boards at busy street corners.
For those who want an archive of Index entries, there is a new paperback collection called "The Harper's Index Book" (Henry Holt, $6.95), edited by Lapham and his two Harper's colleagues -- executive editor Michael Pollan and associate editor Eric Etheridge -- who do the actual work of finding and arranging the numbers every month, who write the haikus.
Percentage of women who wash their hands in a public restroom if someone else is present: 90
Percentage who do so if they are alone: 16
All the attention and imitation surrounding the Index has not meant salvation for Harper's, which calls itself the oldest publication in America. Its heritage, even its recent heritage, is rich indeed, but today, among mass-circulation magazines, Harper's holds the peculiar status of worthy cause, governed as it is by a nonprofit foundation.
Circulation has grown in recent years to 185,000; the loyalty of these subscribers, and certainly their demographics, have begun to impress a jaded advertising community. But these are only relative improvements. Long after they diverged in style and content, Harper's is still equated with the magazine it once resembled, The Atlantic. Some of what Lapham prints is inscrutable or tedious, and probably goes unread. The covers, which deliberately look the same from month to month, do not provoke people to snatch the magazine from the newsstand.
But Harper's, in its current incarnation, has come to stand for innovation. The Index was not the only promising concept unveiled in Lapham's 1984 remake. There is "Annotation," in which a text (a hospital invoice, a surrogate-parenting agreement, a dollar bill, an application for a Swiss bank account, a page of Judge Robert Bork's 1971 Indiana Law Journal article) is subjected to one writer's analysis, deconstruction or wisecracking.
Lapham admits that this idea (like another, "Forum") hasn't yet worked as well in practice as it once did in his head. The "Readings" section, on the other hand, has exceeded his expectations. A monthly collection of authentic odds and ends, it is the verbal equivalent of found art. Together with the Index, it gives Harper's its vitality and its distinction, and holds the nugget of promise for the magazine's survival.
Names in Ronald Reagan's contributor file in 1980: 200,000.
Names in Pat Robertson's contributor file today: 2,500,000.