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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Using numbers to fake, I mean make, your point

"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." - Benjamin Disraeli, as popularized by Mark Twain

I was reading a response in the Dec. 1, 2012 issue of Foreign Affairs "Are Taxes Too Damn High?" by Grover Norquist. I imagine you know what he thinks, and I'm not really planning to debate that one way or another. One paragraph in particular jumped out at me, however. His response essentially castigates Andrea Campbell for her essay entitled "America the Undertaxed" (Here's a linky-link: It was in the September/October 2012 issue of Foreign Affairs).

Anyhow, in this particular paragraph (page 158), Mr. Norquist states: 

 "Still, it is laughable to argue that the present U.S. tax code does not sufficiently take from those who create income and wealth and jobs and give those dollars to those who don’t. The top one percent of income earners in the United States pay 39.6 percent of all federal income taxes. The top five percent pay 61 percent. The top ten percent pay 72.7 percent. The lower half of income earners pay a mere 2.4 percent."

Well, duh! The point that he is not making is that the the top one percent of income earners earn 44% of all the income!!!  So, while his statistics may be correct, they are also misleading (you can tailor and present figures to imply most anything you want). To me, it seems that by coupling these two pieces of information together, the top 1% of income earners are paying a disproportionately small share of the taxes.

Campbell herself makes this point in her reply to his response (phew, so much arguing!), although she is more charitable to Mr. Norquist than I was.  She says that "each income group pays about the same share in taxes as it earns in total income" (top of page 162).

Anyhow, again, my point is not to debate tax policy, just to make the teeny-tiny point that you can't just take a statistic at face value, you have to look at what the numbers say, and often don't say.

Here is something from Todd Snider, one of my favorite musicians:

Now: Who is going to be the next Tennessee football coach?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Some things that puzzle me

I was drinking my coffee this morning and was thinking about some things that puzzle me:

Why people want me to post how I met them on their Facebook wall?  Also, why does the act of sharing a post on FB signify anything (i.e. "Share this in two minutes if you love Jesus - If I take three minutes does it mean I only like Jesus, or that I don't love Jesus at all?).

The comma (‘nuff said)

The excessive celebration rule in college football
but, also

Why professional football players do the elaborate stupid dances that they do after they score.

The DH in the American League (that’s baseball, FYI)

Electricity (pretty sure it is magic)


TV folks who say that they will see me tomorrow. Do they see me now? I’d better stop scratching myself while I watch the news, in that case.

How music gets onto a CD.  For that matter, how does the turntable needle release the sound in the grooves of an album. More magic, says I.

My local Panera has an open air patio with a door.  Why?

Why businesses often pick the most unfriendly of their employees to man the front desk, or answer the phones.

Diet Coke

Woody Allen movies

People who are too cool to admit they like something that is popular

Why you would read this

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Chickamauga Halfathon

I ran another race.

I know you've been anxiously awaiting news of how Chickamauga went (this is an example of self-deprecating sarcasm. I don't really think that anyone has been anxiously awaiting this. See how I used that literary device to exhibit, well, self-deprecating sarcasm? Now, if I could just figure out the mysteries of the comma, I'd be ready for the NY Times (more sarcasm. I guess you got that)). 

Sorry. Anyhow, it sucked.  The race that is.  The one I was talking about up there.

If you are looking for a beautiful race to run, this is it. If it is your first marathon, they will greet you at the finish line with a framed copy of your race bib. It's pretty cool. If you are looking for some tasty, tasty chicken tortilla soup after a race, this is also the place to be.  Finally, if you are looking for a race that will scare the crap out of you at the beginning, then this, again, is the place - they shoot off a Civil War cannon to start the race.  It's....loud.

The good news is that I came in 30th in my age group (M50-54. It's searchable. Whatever).  The bad news is that there were only 31 men in my age group.

My training strategy has been - so it seems - to run very little between races, so as to be fresh for the race.  Doesn't work.

I started running with a pace group and all was well until about mile 5, when my right IT Band started hurting and I alternately "ran", hobbled, and walked.  At mile 9, my hip was feeling left out and joined in the fun.

I've heard of people "death marching" the end of a marathon. Heck, I've done it myself. But I found myself doing the same during this HALF marathon! Did I mention that I dropped down from the full marathon to the half because I'm a blob not very well trained these days?

So, I did the runners walk of shame during the last half of a half marathon!!!

The only other thing to mention is that from about mile 9 to about mile 12, a girl who was in as much pain as I was, started to pass me, then I would pass her and so on, back and forth.  We were sort of like zombies who hadn't turned all foamy and green yet.

                                             That's me in the middle (artists depiction)

With about a half mile to go, after I shuffled past her one last time, she looked up and said "You'd better beat me!" - I told her that we would finish together, and so we did, even to the point of right before the final turn, pretending to run to the finish (gotta look good for the photo!).

Her Mom came up to me afterwards and thanked me for running in with her daughter, and I swelled with pride at my outstanding job of not falling over in front every one.

Oh! Guess what?  It was my slowest half marathon ever!!!

There's nowhere to go but up from here!  I've got some lofty goals!

Stay tuned.  All three of you!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Playing to the lowest common denominator


A few years ago, in The Great State Of Tennessee, Governor Sundquist decided that it was too problematic for grocery store clerks to use discretion when deciding if a customer was old enough to buy beer.  He sent a law through the legislature that said (I'm paraphrasing) that all customers buying beer must produce id, regardless of age. Now, instead of using a common sense approach, i.e "if you look like you are younger than 40, you must show id", instead, your own great grandfather would have to show you his drivers licence before you could sell beer to him in the grocery store. Also, an existing law here says that it is illegal for a minor to sell alcohol.


So, I'm in the local Bi-Lo grocery store in beautiful Cleveland, Tennessee one day, and I put my 6 pack (not my abs, but beer) on the conveyor belt for the clerk to ring up.  Of course, she asks me for my id (please see my profile picture to understand why that is such a stupid thing).                 ------->                                        

                                                               or  ↓  for a closeup


                                                              THE STORE CLERK

I show her my id, and then she asks me if I will press the enter key on the cash register, because if she rings it up, SHE WILL BE BREAKING THE LAW, as she is only 17!

"Eh, whatever", you say.  "Why are you getting so excited about that?"  BECAUSE IT IS STUPID! We are conditioning ourselves to accept stupidity as the norm.

Stating the obvious:  First, I'm 53.  Anyone who thinks I could possibly be too young to purchase alcohol should not be allowed to operate a cash register. Second, pressing a button, or having me press a button, does nothing to achieve the goals of these laws, which, ultimately, are to keep underage people from buying and selling alcohol.

I don't have any great answers.  Just thought I'd gripe.

Thanks for reading.  Now, you kids: Get off my lawn!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The worst day ever

I am a criminal

I committed an unlawful act!  I ran into Starbucks today to get A CUP OF COFFEE, got stuck behind the fancy-shmancy coffee orderers for just a couple of minutes. When I got back to my car, maybe 5 minutes later, I had this parking ticket on my windshield, and a homeless looking guy with a portable ticket machine was slinking into the background (where he would presumably lie in wait for another unsuspecting yet hardened, parking meter scofflaw).

Then, as if that catastrophe wasn't bad enough, I went to Moe's to get a Homerwrecker in a bowl, with tofu and black beans, and THEY DIDN'T HAVE ANY BLACK BEANS!!!  (I knew I should have gone to Mojo Burrito's).

I know what you are thinking. "How could Ian's day possibly get any worse!?!"  Well it did!  On the way home, I was stuck behind an RV from Texas.  He was driving in the left lane, AND WOULDN'T MOVE OVER!!!

It's pretty much the worst day in history. I'm going to have to take some time to compose myself.

Please keep me in your thoughts.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Fun Facts about the Electoral College

Currently consists of 538 electors (equal to the number of Senators and Representatives, each state's number is allocated the same as its Congressional delegation). DC gets 3, thanks to the 23rd Amendment. See the current allocation by clicking on this link

It takes a simple majority of electors to win the Presidency - so, 270 wins.

In most of the states (excepting Maine and Nebraska), it is a winner takes all situation, meaning the candidate who wins the popular vote in that state gets all the electors. This is why it is possible to win the popular vote and lose the Electoral College vote - ask Samuel J. Tilden. Well you can't because he is dead, but click on the link.

Tilden (above) outpolled Hayes (below), but Hayes became our esteemed 19th President, doing very little while in office.

 This is also why larger states that are very close in the polls are so important (for instance, the winner of the highly contested, and very close, Ohio vote will pick up 18 Electors, or about 6.7% of the total electors needed to win - even if he only wins the state by one vote)

Why the Electoral College?

The Electoral College was created for two main reasons:  First to ensure that knowledgeable men would wisely choose the President, and second to ensure that the smaller states would not have more proportionate power than the states with large populations  (a minimum of three Electors gives a disproportionate number of Elector votes to, for example, Wyoming over Texas).

Arguments Against the Electoral College

Those who object to the Electoral College system and favor a direct popular election of the president generally do so on four grounds:

  • the possibility of electing a minority president - a voting minority, not a racial minority! (my edit)
  • the risk of so-called "faithless" Electors,
  • the possible role of the Electoral College in depressing voter turnout, and
  • its failure to accurately reflect the national popular will.
Arguments for the Electoral College

Proponents of the Electoral College system normally defend it on the philosophical grounds that it:

  • contributes to the cohesiveness of the country by requiring a distribution of popular support to be elected president
  • enhances the status of minority interests,
  • contributes to the political stability of the nation by encouraging a two-party system, and
  • maintains a federal system of government and representation

Thanks for reading.  Now go vote, if you haven't already.