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Tag Archives: statistics

Thoughts on Jane Russell, death & Dragnet

An article in San Antonio’s Express-News—the only daily newspaper in the seventh largest city in the United States—on Monday, 28 February 2011 states that the cause of death for Jane Russell, the generously endowed star of Howard Hughes’ 1941 movie The Outlaw, was respiratory failure. Stop me if I’m wrong, but wouldn’t respiratory failure be the cause of death in every instance? I should think that whatever other condition caused the respiratory apparatus to fail would be the real cause of death.

Let’s at least agree on this point—when we say that death was caused by respiratory failure, we are saying that the departed stopped breathing, a term equivalent to saying that someone died because the heart stopped beating. That isn’t enough—we need to know why the departed stopped breathing and why the heart stopped beating. Either of those actions, or their failure to act, will cause the other to happen—when the heart stops beating the breathing also stops, and when the breathing stops the heart stops beating, and neither is the actual cause of death.

Each of us has the innate ability to contribute to the world’s store of statistics, other than just the statistic of having died, and the opportunity to make that contribution is given to us at the time of our death, namely the cause of our death. Was it by our own hand, thereby joining the ranks of suicide statistics? Was it suicide by firearm, hanging, wrist-cutting or a heart attack caused by an overdose of Viagra? As the immortal Jack Webb would say, speaking as Detective Joe Friday in his role as a police detective in the black-and-white television show Dragnet, We just want the facts, M’am, just the facts.

I realize that the Jack Webb skit above is not germane to this posting, but I wanted to show him in action and share his sleuthing techniques with my viewers. I know, I know—I have a lot of time on my hands. There are too many wrongs in this world and too little time to right them, but I will soldierly strive on in my efforts—it’s in my nature.

That’s my story and I’m sticking  to it.

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Why I joined the U.S. Air Force . . .

The immediate reason I joined the U.S. Air Force rather than the Army was because the U.S. Army recruiting office in my town had reached its quota for March, 1949. The Army recruiting sergeant said his quota was filled for the month, so he offered me a position in the Air Force—yes, Virginia, the armed forces had fixed quotas in those days.

There were openings in the U.S. Navy for March, but that service held no attractions for me. I’m not a strong swimmer, and I also feared that the Navy’s uniform whites with the thirteen trouser buttons might be a bit unwieldy. I know, I know—I can swim far better than I can fly, but I joined the Air Force anyway—I liked the khaki uniforms and the Air Force was immediately available. Added to that was the fact that I needed to get out of town quickly.

The events leading up to my enlistment in the active duty military were numerous and varied. Some of those events were pleasant, but others were harrowing. I was enlisted in the Mississippi National Guard at the time, purely in order to get the $10 per month I was paid for training on one Saturday of each month—big money! I lied about my age in order to join—either the Guard recruiter believed me or really didn’t care whether I was old enough to join. I also lied about my age in order to join the Air Force—click here for a brief autobiographical dissertation that includes my underage enlistment. It’s a long read but I can unblushingly assure you, with no hint of personal bias or prejudice, that the read is worth your time and effort.

Now on to the real reason I joined the U.S. Air Force:

Picture this: A billiard hall on the second floor of a building that also housed a market, located a five-minute walk from the city’s combination high school and junior high school. The pool room was a favorite with young men and boys, particularly at noon during school hours, in the evenings (it closed at six pm), and on Saturdays. The proprietor served no alcoholic beverages and had strict rules for conduct in his establishment. Our local police officers came in occasionally for a free Coke and hot dog, and military recruiters made frequent visits to the pool room to discuss the benefits of military enlistments. Many students, including my mother’s youngest son, spend their lunch hour there every day during school terms—shooting pool, eating hot dogs and drinking cokes.

Special notes: A hot dog with all the trimmings cost a whopping ten cents, and the Mae West-shaped Coke was five cents, with no sales tax involved. Pool games cost ten cents each, paid by the players before the balls were racked by a rack boy. Most games were Eight Ball, played between two players and the loser paid for the rack before the next game began. One only needed to approach a table with two shooters and say, “I’ll play the winner.”

And so it was—the loser paid for the new rack, and the next shooter took on the winner. That process was normally honored, and if any shooter balked at giving up the table, the proprietor was called into action to arbitrate—the loser always lost in the arbitration. At least in theory, a proficient shooter could hold sway over a table for the full hour and never have to pay for a game.

I was a proficient shooter. On many school days I arrived at the poolroom with twenty-five cents, no more and no less. I bought a coke and a hot dog with fifteen cents and pocketed the other dime in the somewhat unlikely chance that I lost a game—it happened, of course, but not very often. If I still had the dime when it was time to return to school, I picked up a second hot dog and coke and finished them off on the way back to school. Ah, those were the days!

My encounter with the Army recruiter took place as I was shooting pool with two friends—the three of us were high-school dropouts, and the recruiter painted such a rosy picture of life in the Army that two of us accepted his invitation to appear at his office the following Monday for testing.

The third person at the pool table was physically unfit for military service—while sound in mind and body in most respects, his back was severely hunched, or humped—I’m unsure of the proper term to use. His deformity was so severe that he resembled a fiddler crab in his forward progress—he wore a sports jacket year-round, regardless of the weather. Before feeling too much pity, one needs to know that he was very much favored by the girls—we were never told what made him so attractive but we had our suspicions, and it sure wasn’t his intellect, his good looks or his conversational charm!

With all necessary apologies to our soldiers, both active duty and veterans, whether discharged or retired, I must state that the U.S. Army’s written test was ridiculously easy for me, but my friend made such a low score that the recruiting sergeant suggested that he not bother asking for a retest—statistics showed that he would never be able to pass the test, no matter how many times he tried. I have long harbored a suspicion that he deliberately failed the exam, but at this late date it is a matter of no importance—at that time he was out and I was in, and that’s all that counted.

Aside from the fact that I was at loose ends, bobbing about on a sea of endless days and nights with no particular feelings or expectations concerning the future, I admit that I was involved in some activities that did not bode well for my future. I passed the written exam and the physical, and I accepted the Army recruiter’s offer of allowing me to enlist in the Air Force rather than waiting for the following month to go into the U.S. Army. Mine was a wise choice, and I have never looked back—well, perhaps a few times during my 15 months in Korea at the height of the Korean War. In my looking back, I am thankful that I did not enlist in the army—had I waited another month I would probably have been in Korea anyway, but fighting on the front lines instead of maintaining aircraft in the rear echelon of troops in country.

I managed to hang on to my sanity through 13 weeks of basic training—click here for some thoughts on that period. Following graduation from basic training, I was treated to a two-week excursion on a U.S. Army troop ship bound for Japan, all expenses paid. I was fine until the third day out, but on that day I was so seasick I seriously considered jumping ship, right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. However, being fully aware of my swimming capabilities and the lack thereof, I turned myself inside out over a 24-hour period and survived my bout with seasickness—a monumental turnaround, especially considering the quality of food served by the Army cooks.

 

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Letter to the editor, SA Express-news: On polls . . .

This letter was not published because it was not presented for the editor’s review—it was not presented to him because, based on considerable personal experience accumulated over a period of many years, I felt certain it would be rejected out-of-hand by the Express-News editor—as of this posting, I have never had a letter rejected by WordPress.com—they seem to welcome my letters—never a refusal.

Letter to the editor:

San Antonio Express-News

October 4, 2009

Re: Joann Smith’s letter entitled People want reform, published in Your Turn today, rebutted a letter by Col. James Vinci concerning columnist Froma Harrop. In a recent column, Froma quoted a poll by the New England Journal of Medicine that showed that 73 percent of doctors polled were in favor of a public insurance option in the administration’s proposed changes to health care. The colonel challenged that percentage, claiming that a recent poll showed that most doctors opposed HR 3200. The author of People want reform states that Col. Vinci failed to cite which poll, and that he charged Froma with hypocritically cherry-picking statistics.

In her letter today, Joann Smith states that “Poll after poll shows that Americans, across all demographic lines, support having a public insurance option available. Check polls by ABC, CBS, AARP, Time Magazine, Kaiser. Americans want the choice of a public option.

Congress, are you listening to the people?”

Really, Ms Adams? You gave us a very short list. Why did you not list some other well-known organizations, news and otherwise, that frequently conduct polls which, ultimately and predictably, show support for the current administration regardless of the subject. The polls may be tailored to the national health program, specifically to the public insurance option, or to the administration’s stand on immigration, legal and illegal, or to the recession, or to the administration’s stand on foreign policy—how to handle Afghanistan, Iran, Palestine, Israel, North Korea, China, Poland, ad infinitum.

Here are some others you could have properly cited, but you did not:

Why not NBC?

Why not NPR?

Why not the Harvard School of Public Health?

It is notable that the Kaiser Family Foundation recently joined NPR (National Public Radio) and the Harvard School of Public Health in a new poll, Survey on the Role of Health Care Interest Groups, published September 30, 2009.

Here’s the online news announcement:

New NPR/Kaiser/Harvard Poll Examines Public’s Views of the Role of Health Care Interest Groups in the Health Care Debate

It must be noted that all three entities are far to the left of center—all can legitimately be considered hard-core far-left organizations. Predictably, the poll showed wide support for the administration’s efforts to create a national health care plan, including the public  option.

It’s also notable that “Representatives of the three organizations worked together to develop the survey questionnaire and to analyze the results, with NPR maintaining editorial control over its broadcasts on the surveys,” as stated in the news announcements.

In conclusion, some special notes for Ms Adams:

Poll results are presented in numerical figures, and the results can easily be manipulated by the nature of the questions, by the demographics of the people and the area being polled and how the respondents’ answers are analyzed—in fine, Ms Adams, figures don’t lie, but liars figure—a corollary is that polls don’t lie, but pollsters figure. Some pollsters know exactly what they want from a survey, and then manipulate the various parts of the poll to accomplish the goal they desire.

In the interest of full disclosure, it must be stated that the ability to manipulate poll results is not restricted to the political left—it is also available, and is used, by centrists and by the political right. Some use that ability far more than others, and some are far more adept at skewing the results.

In the matter of politics, particularly in the matter of political polls, one should cover all the venues—books, newspapers, movies, television and talk radio—one should read, look, listen and learn in order to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Just a suggestion: Every one that reads this posting will profit by picking up the TV remote and channel surfing until they find a news source that uses this motto:

“We report—you decide.”

Bias exists on the channel that uses the motto, “We report—you decide” but in far less degree than other, perhaps most, news sources. It’s everywhere, similar to the air we breathe. And just as our atmosphere at some locations contains more pollution than others, the degree to which political bias exists depends on the source, whether on television, on radio, in face-to-face gatherings or in print.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

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