Archive for November, 2011

I despise polls.

I despise the fact that people think the mood of a nation of over 300,000,000 can be determined based on the answers given by 1,012 adults who happen to have phones, were by their phones, and were not busy or lonely enough to take the time to respond to some worker ask questions about this and that.

Regardless if it’s asking who would make a good President, whether the Patriot Act is a good thing, or if you prefer paper over plastic, polling is a lazy way to make policy.

In addition to the aforementioned problem of the type of people being asked (have phones, by their phones, not doing else important), polls can be skewed depending on how the question is worded. Carl Bialik of The Wall Street Journal writes a much better piece than I could about this phenomenon. Bialik writes about how a presidential approval rating poll comes out differently depending if the option of “somewhat” is used. He also talks about how results can be different if more options are given to a question.

However, what I despise more than polls is the conclusions drawn from those polls and in this respect, I heap most of my disdain on media outlets for being incredibly lazy (and not the first time I’ve called them to task for being lazy).

My case in point today is a Gallup poll that came out that asked respondents if the health care overhaul legislation should be repealed or kept in place.

You will notice, if you go to the link provided above, that out of 1,012 adults asked, 47 percent favor repealing and 42 percent favor keeping the law in place.

With those numbers in hand, media outlets touted that the American people had spoken and wanted the law undone…

From Rueters: More American than not want health law repeal
From RTT News: Poll Shows More Americans Favor Repealing Healthcare Reform Law
From The Weekly Standard: Americans Want Repeal
From UPI: Americans lean toward healthcare repeal
And even from Gallup itself: Americans Tilt Toward Favoring Repeal of Healthcare Law

There’s just a slight problem. The poll has an error in it.

This error is so well-known that the pollsters even mention it at the bottom of their poll. Here it is…

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

The error that I speak of is called “the margin of error“. What this means is that the percentage numbers cited by any poll can actually be plus or minus the margin of error figure. In Gallup’s poll, this means that the 47% that want to repeal the health care law is actually somewhere between 43% and 51%. This also means that the number who want to keep the law as it is between 39% and 47%.

Have you noticed that, after taking the margin of error into account, these percentages now overlap?

There is a scenario, given the margin of error, that 47% of the 1,024 adults asked want to keep the law as is and that 43% favor repealing.

There is another scenario, given the margin of error, that 45 percent of the respondents favor repeal and 45 percent favor keeping the law as is. That’s a tie in my book.

Instead of any thoughtful analysis of what the numbers actually say or the discussing the folly of divining the mood of a population by asking a sliver of its inhabitants, the media is lazy and writes headlines that fit their pre-conceived notions because thinking is hard…and there’s always another story that needs to be written in our 24-hour news spin cycle.

End Note: Proper respect must be given to MyFox (Fox 26) in Houston, Texas, for at least putting some proper perspective on the Gallup poll. Their headline reads Poll Says US Nearly Divided on Health Care Reform and their article even goes on to state that “…it seems more Americans want the law repealed than those who don’t”.

Nice to see that at least one media outlet has its lights on.

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It’s time to update that classic Tom Lehrer tune, The Element Song, because the news has come out that three elements on the periodic table have new names. Science lovers also now have three new element abbreviations to learn.

Element 110 is now called Darmstadtium (Ds), named for the city of Darmstad, Germany.
Element 111 is now called Roentgenium (Rg) in honor or Wilhelm Rontgen (more on him in a moment)
Element 112 is now called Copernicium (Cn) in honor of Nichlaus Copernicus, the astronomer who first developed a model of the solar system with the Sun at the center.

While this news is fantastic as these new names replace the original working names of these elements (Ununnilium, Unununium, and Ununbium), this news, and especially the honoree of Element 111, reminded me a tale from my life many moons ago. I wrote about it in a ceditra entry that came up on September 5 of this year when my random process for coming with ideas to write about (abbreviation: RP; atomic weight: 336) directed me to page 944 of my dictionary where I saw….

X ray
1. electromagnetic radiation of short wavelengths, able to pass through opaque bodies

I can tell you who discovered X rays, but I just can’t pronounce his name.

After my less-than-smashing success in the early 1990s for trying out for Jeopardy! (in other words, I failed three times out of three), I stuck to the cliché and did not give up, but tried, tried again. However, by about 1995, the universe of game shows on AM network television had dwindled courtesy of the rise of the celebrity talk show (e.g., Ricki Lake, Montel Williams, Jerry Springer, etc.). The one sanctuary for question-and-answer shows was cable television so that’s where I went to try my luck again.

That is how I wound up on Win Ben Stein’s Money broadcast on Comedy Central.

The conceit of this show was unique where the producers of the show actually gave the host a pile of money and it was from that pot that a contestant won from. In the second and third rounds, the contestant(s) actually competed against the economist/actor.

On the show I was on, I actually made it past the first round and was competing against the other contestant (who had done better than me in the first round) and Ben Stein.

It was close between me and other contestant when the question popped up as to who discovered X rays. I knew it was Wilhelm Rontgen, but after I buzzed in, I pronounced his name with an extra syllable (hey, I don’t know German that well or how umlauts are pronounced). The producers stopped the tape as they replayed my answer and I also took this time to explain my answer (I knew how to spell his name). In the end, my appeal was denied, and I lost the second round and was off the show.

Thus ended my game show experience. As the consolation prize, I did win a portable CD player…which I gave to a friend of mine.

Probably best I didn’t win on that game show. All that “fame” would have gone to my head and I hear you have to pay taxes on all the prizes you win anyway.

End Note: If you want to win a bar bet, mention that Jimmy Kimmel (he of Jimmy Kimmel Live!) made his television debut as Ben Stein’s sidekick on Win Ben Stein’s Money.

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I have written before about how people who do marketing (i.e., that class of workers whose function it is to make us purchase things we may or may not need) think the rest of us are drooling idiots.

Allow me to throw the following example on to the heap.

My wife enjoys reading and one of her favorite authors is Nora Roberts. You may not know this, and my wife did not know this at the start of her Roberts’s reading adventure, but this author has another series of books outside of her typical romance books.

Under the name J.D. Robb, she writes about Eve Dallas, a police office in a near-future world.

This post is not to discuss the quality of her work, which since I have not read any of them, I am unqualified to critique anyway.

No, this post is to highlight some wording on the paperback version of her 2003 book, Imitation in Death. In addition to the title of the book and the name of the author, there is an oval with text meant to show that this book is something special. Usually, other Robb novels have the words, “First Time in Paperback”, which is to tell the reader that this is their first opportunity to buy the book cheaper.

However, this is not what this orange oval said. It, instead read…

First Time in Print!

Remember, I’m looking at a book. This is a story I’m looking at. Where else would I have seen this tale called Imitation in Death?

Was it ever a movie? Was an audiobook put out? Is there a podcast I can download?

Please tell me, where was this tale available before it was in print?

See what I mean. People who do marketing must think we’re idiots.

By the way…this blog posting is really special because it’s the first time in print.

See…it’s even stupid when I say it.

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Freedom Day 2011

Today, November 9, marks the 22nd anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I wrote about this anniversary last year and I bemoaned the fact that it is not a holiday. This event is truly one of those history-altering occurrences that changed how the world lives.

I’m actually annoyed Google doesn’t have a doodle to commemorate this event.

So, as I wrote last year, I would like to designate today as Freedom Day – a celebration of a time when the forces of good, light, and rainbows triumphed over evil, darkness, and scratchy toilet paper.

Last year, I inaugurated the Nolan Mannski Freedom Day Award by bestowing it upon Burmese democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi…who shortly after (virtually) receiving her award in November of 2010, was released from house arrest.

Pure coincidence, I concede.

For the year 2011, the second Nolan Mannski Freedom Day Award goes to Mohammed Bouazizi of Tunisia. This gentleman is credited with starting what has become known as the Arab Spring, the wave of popular uprising that have overthrown the governments of Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. Mass demonstrations were also staged in Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria (to name a few) where the governments are still in power.

Mohammed Bouazizi ignited this wave of popular unrest by igniting himself. In a protest against the lack of job opportunities and his treatment at the hands of local authorities, Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire and died.

Partly because of his act of defiance, his brother was able to vote in a democratic election in Tunisia.

Unlike the Nobel Committee, I have no problem with giving out awards posthumously, so congratulations to Mohammed Bouazizi.

More importantly, congratulations to the citizens of Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya who now have the opportunity to chart their own course.

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End Time Travel

Like most everyone back home in the United States, this weekend saw me running around our French home changing all the clocks back one hour because of that freak of non-nature, Daylight Saving Time.

Let me dive right into the main point of this blurb: END DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME!

There simply is no reason for it.

After doing some research over the Internet, I have to come to find that all the reasons I had once thought that formed the basis of DST are bogus.

MYTH A) Benjamin Franklin initially proposed DST
No. According to The Skeptoid, Franklin’s proposal, as stated in this paper, is a piece of satire where the American is poking fun at the Parisian lifestyle of going to bed after midnight and waking up somewhere around noon. In his letter to a French newspaper, Franklin writes about how he makes the amazing discovery that at six-o’clock in the morning, he was awakened by a light coming in through his window, which had been left open by accident, and discovered it is the sun. When he shares this amazing fact to some friends that the sun gives off light early in the morning, he writes that one responded skeptically with the notion that the “windows being accidentally left open, instead of letting in the light, had only served to let out the darkness”.

Franklin, tongue-in-cheek, proposes numerous ways that Parisians can save money on candle wax. He proposes taxing windows with shutters and he suggests having every church bell ring when the sun rises to wake slaggards but, the basic idea was for the French folk to wake up early.  There is no mention at all in his letter about turning the clocks backward or forwards.

MYTH B) DST helps farmers
No. According to the website Standard Time.com

In Indiana, where part of the state observes DST and part does not, farmers have opposed a move to DST. Farmers, who must wake with the sun no matter what time their clock says, are greatly inconvenienced by having to change their schedule in order to sell their crops to people who observe daylight saving time.

MYTH C) DST saves energy
Nope. This is probably the biggest reason people give when supporting DST. Having daylight last longer means people don’t have the burn energy to turn lights on. However, the converse is true for those people who work at jobs where they have to leave early to beat the traffic. Since it is darker than it should be early on those summer mornings, workers need to turn on lights that they wouldn’t have if the sun was out. The website at HowStuffWorks.com wrote…

…the most compelling evidence comes from Matthew Kotchen, an economist at the University of California. When the entire state of Indiana began to observe DST in 2006, after spending many years on a half-and-half system, Kotchen seized the opportunity to conduct a before-and-after study of energy use. He and his team found that daylight saving time led to a 1 percent overall rise — a rise! — in residential electricity use, costing the state an extra $9 million

So, if there seems to be no compelling reason as to why the anachronism of DST still exists, why does it continue?

I’ll leave the penultimate word to Skeptoid, who writes…

There’s one powerful reason that daylight saving is probably here to stay, and it has nothing to do with farms or electricity or road safety. Strong reasons usually have to do with money. Not money that you send to your utility company, but money that you hand over at the cash register. During the warm summer months when it’s possible to do so in comfort, people like to be out and about in the evening. They like to go out for dinner, drinks, or a movie, or wander through stores and galleries. They also like to play golf and tennis.

Dig hard enough and the solution is usually money.

Regardless of that fact, let’s end Daylight Saving Time. Write, call, and tweet your elected representative to have this abomination ended. Let’s get our time back.

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Snippet from a conversation held today at our Saturday breakfast table:

Jared (middle child): Papi, can you define a “pronoun”?

Me (father): Sure, it’s a word that takes the place of a proper noun.

Christopher (oldest child): Oh, I always thought it was a noun that lost its amateur status.

The above is the result of what happens when I let my oldest son read through my Calvin and Hobbes books.

Congratulations, Mr. Watterson, on sparking the humor of a new generation.

Mr. Watterson, in addition, I hope your paintings are coming along well.

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The School of Irony

While attending my children’s parent-teacher conferences last week, I was struck by the irony of what I saw in the lobby of their school.

In the book bin, was a tome for children about the life of Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican from Florida.

The irony of an American school in France that touts itself as teaching the fundamentals of internationalism to its students having a book about the life of a Congresswoman who sponsors bills critical of the United Nations (United Nations Tax Equalization Refund Act of 2011, United Nations Transparency, Accountability, and Reform Act) and is quite vocal in her criticism of the international body cannot be overstated.

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